SAVING THE SISKIYOU MOUNTAINS SALAMANDER

The Klamath-Siskiyou region is world renowned for its rich biodiversity; some of the plants and animals that live here, and nowhere else, are among the most majestic in the United States. Several — like the Siskiyou Mountains salamander and the Scott Bar salamander — have very small home ranges, and logging of old-growth trees in their habitats, along with the increasing risks of forest fire, mining, and construction, put these species at grave risk of extinction. The Siskiyou Mountains salamander and the Scott Bar salamander have the smallest ranges of any western salamanders in their genus, occupying a small area on the Oregon-California border in the Klamath-Siskiyou region. Their special habitat requirements make them highly sensitive to logging, and studies prove that cutting always precipitates their decline or disappearance.

The Siskiyou Mountains salamander was once protected under the Survey and Manage Program, a provision of the Northwest Forest Plan established for unprotected species dependent on old-growth forests. The program employed a “look-before-you-leap” strategy that required the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to survey for old-growth species and create logging buffers around where the species were found. But in 2004, the Bush administration eliminated the program, leaving the Siskiyou Mountains and Scott Bar salamanders, among hundreds of other species, without protection. Along with our allies, the Center filed a petition to protect these two salamanders under the Endangered Species Act in 2004. After several lawsuits, in 2007 the Service announced that listing for the salamanders may be warranted— but the next year declared that neither species merited listing.

The loss or decline of salamanders from forest ecosystems has important consequences up and down the food chain. Salamanders play a key role in forest nutrient flow, regulating the abundance of soil invertebrates that are responsible for the breakdown of plant detritus. Salamanders’ loss from forested stands is indicative of changes that will likely affect a broad array of species.