Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, July 26, 2018

Contact: Jenny Loda, (510) 844-7100 x 336,

Lawsuit Launched to Speed Endangered Species Act Protection for Shasta Salamander

Salamander Once Thought Single Species, Now Known to Be Three, Is Imminently Threatened by Plans to Raise Shasta Dam

REDDING, Calif.— The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to act on a 2012 petition to protect three newly recognized species of salamander under the Endangered Species Act.

The Fish and Wildlife Service was required to make a decision about those protections within one year, so the agency’s finding is now more than five years late.

“Like too many California amphibians, these salamanders are spiraling toward extinction,” said Jenny Loda, a Center biologist and attorney who works to protect vulnerable amphibians and reptiles. “To preserve these amazing animals, the Fish and Wildlife Service has to protect them quickly under the Endangered Species Act.”

The salamanders are threatened by recent efforts to raise the level of the Shasta dam, which would result in flooding of their habitat.

When the 2012 petition was filed, the only known salamander was the Shasta salamander. But new research published in April revealed that the Shasta salamander in California is actually three species — each more endangered than previously thought. All three live in the vicinity of Shasta Lake.

The Shasta salamander’s range was already restricted to a single county. The creation of Shasta Dam and Reservoir destroyed salamander populations and habitat, so raising the dam further would likely fast-track their extinction.  

Shasta Dam construction had stalled in recent years. But this past spring, Congress allocated $20 million in the 2018 federal Omnibus bill toward the project. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation plans to use the funds for preconstruction design and will advertise for bids on a construction contract in September 2019. Construction to raise the height of the dam would begin sometime in late spring or summer 2020.

But the Fish and Wildlife Service does not plan to review whether the Shasta salamander requires protection through a 12-month finding until 2022 — 10 years after the petition was filed and two years after construction is slated to begin. Such a delayed decision would clearly come too late for these salamanders.

Long delays in protecting species under the Act have been a persistent problem for decades. At least 42 species have gone extinct waiting for protection.

“If we’re going to save the Shasta salamanders, there’s no time to waste,” said Loda. “With a near-perfect record at saving the species it protects from extinction, the Endangered Species Act is our best hope for keeping these rare creatures in the world.”

Shasta salamanders (Hydromantes shastae, Hydromantes samweli, Hydromantes wintu) are 4 inches long and dark reddish-brown. Their restricted range, coupled with ongoing threats of habitat destruction and degradation, leaves them extremely vulnerable to extinction.

The recently described Samwel Shasta salamander was named for its original discovery site, Samwel Cave, and the Wintu Shasta salamander is named for the original habitants of the region, the Winnemem Wintu tribe. All three species are found within a range of about 330 square miles in the vicinity of Shasta Lake.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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