July 26, 2004
CALIFORNIA TIGER SALAMANDER PROTECTED IN CENTRAL CALIFORNIA UNDER FEDERAL ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT
Today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released the final decision listing the California tiger salamander in Central California as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act. The protection comes after nearly fourteen years of petitions from scientists and conservation organizations as well as litigation, and enjoys the unanimous support of every single independent scientific expert and wildlife biologist that commented on the proposal. The listing extends the protections of the Endangered Species Act to the salamander in its range in Central California, which includes portions of over 20 counties.
“We are pleased that the California tiger salamander has at long last been officially protected in Central California,” said Kassie Siegel, a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Now it is time to move forward with efforts to protect the salamander and its habitat for future generations.”
The listing determination comes in response to a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity (“Center”) in 2002. Under the terms of the Settlement Agreement in that case, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was required to issue a proposed rule to list the Central California salamander by May 15, 2003, and a final listing determination by May 15, 2004. On May 13, 2004, the Bush Administration requested a six-month extension, until November 23, 2004, to issue a final listing determination, claiming that uncertainties had been raised by newly released California Department of Conservation Farmland Mapping and Monitoring data. The Center opposed the extension in Court because there is in fact no legitimate scientific controversy surrounding the need to protect this species. The U.S. District Court ultimately ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to quickly consider the “disputed” data and to issue a final listing determination no later than July 23, 2004. The final rule confirms that the newly released data in fact supports the need to protect the salamander under the Endangered Species Act.
The California tiger salamander (Ambystoma californiense) is an important part of California's precious natural heritage. This amphibian was historically distributed throughout most of the Central Valley, adjacent foothills, Coast Ranges, Santa Barbara County, and the Santa Rosa Plain in Sonoma County. This California tiger salamander requires seasonal ponds, or vernal pools, for successful breeding. The species breeds during the winter rainy season, but spends the majority of the year in underground refuges, primarily small mammal burrows, in grassland or oak woodland habitat. The habitat types the California tiger salamander requires, vernal pools, grasslands, and oak woodlands, are some of the most endangered habitat types in California. Studies have estimated that less than one tenth of one percent of California's native grasslands remain, and approximately 95% of California's vernal pool landscape has already been lost.
Today’s listing decision also includes a Bush Administration initiative to change the status of California tiger salamander populations in Santa Barbara and Sonoma counties from endangered to threatened and to eliminate the current classification of the species as three “Distinct Population Segments.” In addition, the decision allows certain ranching activities to continue that would otherwise be prohibited, based on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s conclusion that continued ranching in California will help to preserve open space needed by the salamander to survive in the long term. Both the Santa Barbara and Sonoma salamander populations were “emergency” listed as recently as January, 2000 and July, 2002, respectively.
“Changing the status of the Santa Barbara and Sonoma salamanders from endangered to threatened directly conflicts with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s rationale for the emergency listings of the Sonoma and Santa Barbara salamanders,” said Karen Kraus, a staff attorney with the Environmental Defense Center in Santa Barbara. “The decision to change the status from endangered to threatened has no basis in science.”