Unlike many salamanders, Siskiyou Mountains salamanders are not born in water. Instead, juvenile salamanders hatch as miniature adults with no need for metamorphosis. Members of a group of salamanders called Plethodons, Siskiyou Mountains salamanders are lungless, breathing directly through their skin. This makes them vulnerable to moisture loss, restricting their activity to the wettest portions of the year or cool, moist nights. During the remainder of the year, Siskiyou Mountains salamanders survive patiently underground with little need for food.
Although this lifestyle may seem strange, Plethodon salamanders have been highly successful for millions of years. In many forests, salamander mass surpasses either birds in the peak of the breeding season or small mammals. On a single hillside, they can number in the thousands. Unseen masters of the forest floor, Siskiyou Mountains salamanders are top predators of soil-living animals such as ants, spiders and millipedes. Because such prey is small or lives in soil, it is typically unavailable to larger predators such as snakes and birds of prey. These animals, however, do feed on salamanders. Salamanders thus are a critical link in the food chain.
The Siskiyou Mountains salamander has the smallest range of any western Plethodon, occupying a small area on the Oregon-California border in the biologically rich and world-renowned Klamath-Siskiyou Region. A narrow habitat specialist, Siskiyou Mountains salamanders are primarily found on rock-covered hillsides in the shade of old-growth forests. These habitat requirements make the Siskiyou Mountains salamander and other Plethodons highly sensitive to logging, with studies from across the country finding steep declines or disappearance of salamanders following cutting.
The Siskiyou Mountains salamander was formerly protected by a provision of the Northwest Forest Plan called the Survey and Manage Program. This program was established for species, such as the salamander, that are dependent on old-growth forests but primarily occur outside the system of reserves designed to protect the northern spotted owl, marbled murrelet and salmon. It required the forest service and BLM to survey for Siskiyou Mountains salamanders and other species prior to logging, and where found to create buffers protected from logging. This look-before-you-leap strategy was a key component of ecosystem management, which provided the philosophical framework of the Northwest Forest Plan.
Bent on increasing logging of old-growth forests and appeasing their campaign contributors in the timber industry, the Bush Administration eliminated the Survey and Manage Program in March, 2004, leaving the Siskiyou Mountains salamander and hundreds of other species with little to no protection. To provide alternative protection for the Siskiyou Mountains salamander, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition to protect the Siskiyou Mountains salamander as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act on June 16, 2004.