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California tiger salamander

Metorpolitan News-Enterprise, September 3, 2008

Commission Ordered to Consider Listing Salamander as Endangered
By Kenneth Offgang

The state Fish and Game Commission must consider listing the California tiger salamander as an endangered species, the Third District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.

The panel agreed with Sacramento Superior Court Judge Lloyd G. Connelly that the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmentalist group, made the required threshold showing under the California Endangered Species Act. Connelly’s order, affirmed by the panel, requires the commission to accept the center’s petition, treat the salamander as a candidate species, and proceed to the final stage of the listing process.

The commission’s 2004 decision to reject the petition at the threshold stage was contrary to evidence in the administrative record, Justice Kathleen Butz wrote.

Administrative Record

“The information in the administrative record shows the salamander species does not breed prolifically, is vulnerable to several significant threats, has lost most of its original habitat, and has been displaced by a hybrid from a significant portion of its range,” the justice explained. “The Commission’s criticism of parts of this showing is not sufficient to support its finding that a reasonable person would conclude there is no substantial possibility that listing could occur.”

Under the state act, the commission considers petitions to list species in a two-step process. In the first step, the Department of Fish and Game issues a report evaluating the petition and recommending whether the commission should the accept the petition for further study.

The commission must accept the petition if it, along with the department’s report and additional evidence received, indicates that listing “may be warranted.” If the petition is accepted, the species is designated as candidate for listing and the department conducts a 12-month status review to determine whether listing is warranted.

Candidacy Period

At the end of the 12-month review, the department issues a second report to the commission and the commission votes as to whether listing is warranted. During the candidacy period, the species receives the same protection as a species listed as threatened or endangered.

The California tiger salamander is unique to the state and is found in the Central Coast and San Francisco Bay areas and elsewhere in northern California.

Supporters of the listing argue that urban development, farming, and predation are destroying the salamanders’ habitat. They say that vernal pools, in which the species has historically occurred and which are the best places for it to breed, are disappearing.

Opponents claim that there are more than 500,000 adult salamanders, a figure disputed by the Department of Fish and Game, which pegs the number and less than 50,000. The opponents also claim the number of known locations for salamanders has been increasing, but supporters have criticized the methodology on which that conclusion is based, saying some of the locations show no live salamanders, and note the small number of breeding females.

‘Evidence Favors Supporters’

For purposes of the initial listing stage, Butz wrote yesterday, the evidence favors supporters:

“The information supporting the petition is largely derived from scientific evidence drawn from peer-reviewed journal articles and the testimony of the chief scientific researcher of the species. It is uncontroverted that this is a species that takes a long time to reach sexual maturity, is subject to a great deal of attrition along the way, does not breed prolifically, and is subject to wide population fluctuation and local extirpation through episodic natural droughts. California is a state where significant human population growth and attendant development has long been a constant. The maps produced by the Department show that projected population growth will likely encroach further on some of the range of the salamanders’ remaining available habitat. The loss of a majority of the natural breeding habitat sites and fragmentation of the remaining habitat, in these circumstances, affords a strong inference of threat or endangerment.”

Attorneys on appeal were Deputy Attorney General William D. Cunningham for the commission and Jan Chatten-Brown and Amy Minteer of Chatten-Brown and Carstens, along with in-house counsel Kassia R. Siegel, for the center.

The case is Center for Biological Diversity v. California Fish and Game Commission, 08 S.O.S. 5317.

Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton