| March 17, 2003
SONOMA COUNTY TIGER SALAMANDER PROTECTED UNDER FEDERAL ENDANGERED
"We are very excited that the Sonoma salamander is finally getting the protection it needs in order to avoid extinction," said Kassie Siegel, staff attorney for the Center. "Preserving the salamander and its habitat will also protect biodiversity, ecosystem health, and open space in Sonoma County."
Historically, the Sonoma salamander was distributed throughout the Santa Rosa Plain and adjacent lowlands in Sonoma County, and may have ranged into southern Marin and Napa counties. The salamander lives in valley oak woodland and grassland habitat and utilizes vernal pools, unique ecosystems that are inundated by winter rains and dry completely by summer, for breeding.
Monica Bond, a biologist with the Center, stated "The Sonoma salamander needs open space and so do people. So much habitat has been lost that the salamander is currently on the edge of extinction and needs protection. By protecting the salamander we also help protect our rapidly diminishing open space also: it's a win-win situation."
Habitat destruction and fragmentation due to urban and intensive agricultural development are the primary threats to the species. Only seven breeding sites are known to remain in the County, and all are surrounded by a relatively small amount of natural habitat and all occur near roads where migrating salamanders can be accidentally crushed by cars.
Industry groups spent what appears to be an unprecedented amount of time and money opposing the listing, hiring an army of lawyers and consultants to argue that the Sonoma Salamander should not be protected under the ESA. Industry groups argued that the salamander is not endangered and that it is not distinct from other populations around the state. These arguments were soundly rejected by the Service in this week's ruling.
The dire situation facing the species has only been confirmed during the time the emergency listing was in effect: at least 12 surveys are ongoing in Sonoma County in three areas not previously known to have California tiger salamander occurrences, and to date, not a single new occurrence of the species has been detected. The final rule also confirms that the Sonoma salamander is a "Distinct Population Segment" under the ESA, because it is both genetically and geographically distinct from other California tiger salamander populations throughout the state.
Protecting the salamander's wetland breeding habitat will yield tremendous environmental and economic benefits because wetlands perform water purification and flood control functions. Protecting the salamander and its habitat will result in increased open space in Sonoma County, which is of enormous value to almost all residents. Studies have shown that preservation of open space increases adjacent property values.
The Center filed suit in January, 2002 when the Service failed to meet the mandatory deadlines under the ESA for processing the petition. In June, the lawsuit was settled when the Service agreed to make a determination on the emergency petition by July 15, 2002 and issue a final listing determination within 240 days. The Service must also propose the California tiger salamander for listing throughout its remaining range in California by May 15, 2003, and issue a final determination on that proposal within one year.
The ESA prohibits all "take" of listed species, which is defined broadly as killing, harming, harassing, or destroying the species' habitat. An "incidental take permit" is needed from the Service for any activity that may harm the species. The Service is also required to draft a "recovery plan" for the species, which will specify the measures needed to protect the species from extinction and promote recovery. Recovery for the Sonoma salamander will require the assembly of larger protected blocks of habitat for the species on the Santa Rosa Plain. The Santa Rosa plain is a unique ecosystem home to many native species including the federally listed Sebastol meadowfoam, a rare plant.