FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 10, 2004
Contact: Kassie Siegel (951) 659-6053 ext. 302
CALIFORNIA TIGER SALAMANDER CRITICAL HABITAT PROPOSED IN CENTRAL CALIFORNIA: YET BUSH ADMINISTRATION CONTINUES TO DEFY THE LAW
Today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed designating 382,666 acres of critical habitat for the California tiger salamander in Central California. The proposal includes 47 critical habitat units in 20 counties.
“Critical habitat is one of the most important safety nets for wildlife, plants, and fish protected by the Endangered Species Act,” said Kassie Siegel, a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We all know that one of the most effective ways to protect species is to protect the places they live.”
While critical habitat proposal is an important step for the protection of the salamander and its habitat, the Bush Administration continued to defy the law in today’s proposal by declaring that critical habitat provides “little additional protection to most listed species” and imposes large economic costs. These statements are completely unsupported, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife under the Bush Administration has been unable to provide any supporting material whatsoever for its false, politically motivated statements.
Recently the Center submitted a request to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) for “[a]ll records that indicate that protecting critical habitat for ESA listed species does not provide additional protection to the species,” and for “[a]ll records that indicate that the protections afforded by critical habitat designations are outweighed by the costs of such designations.” The Fish and Wildlife Service responded that it had “no documents responsive to such a request.” When the Center appealed the failure to produce any documents, the Department of the Interior FOIA Officer confirmed that the Fish and Wildlife Service has no documents that support the Bush Administration’s position that critical habitat does not provide additional benefit to imperiled species or that its costs outweigh its benefits.
One of the most important ways critical habitat protects imperiled plants and animals is that federal agencies are prohibited from taking actions that “adversely modify” critical habitat. The Bush Administration has repeatedly lost legal battles in which it has defended a definition of “adverse modification” which provides far too little protection for endangered species. Last Friday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals once again struck down the Administration’s position that critical habitat is only “adversely modified” if the impact to critical habitat “appreciably diminishes the value of the critical habitat for both the survival and recovery of a listed species.” Because a species clearly needs more habitat to recover to the point it can be removed from the list of endangered species than it needs merely to survive, the government’s position sets the bar far too high. The Ninth Circuit stated: “The agency's controlling regulation on critical habitat thus offends the ESA because the ESA was enacted not merely to forestall the extinction of species (i.e., promote a species survival), but to allow a species to recover to the point where it may be delisted.”
The Center for Biological Diversity won a similar victory in U.S. District Court last week. Prevailing on this important point will provide significant additional protection to the California tiger salamander because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be obliged to consider the whether loss or modification of designated critical habitat will prevent the species from recovering to the point it no longer requires Endangered Species Act protection.
Contrary to the Bush Administration’s attempts to undermine the important checks and balances provided by critical habitat, an analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity has shown that species for which critical habitat has been designated are less likely to be declining and more likely to be recovering that species without critical habitat.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will hold a public comment period on the proposal until October 12, 2004. “We are hopeful that that good science will ultimately prevail and that the critical habitat designation will be greatly expanded to include all habitat necessary to prevent the extinction and allow the recovery of the salamander,” said Siegel. “If the Bush Administration excludes vital habitat for political gain, we will challenge that in Court.”
The California tiger salamander was listed as “threatened” last month in response to a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity to halt endless delays in protecting the species. The Endangered Species Act requires that the Fish and Wildlife Service designate critical habitat at the time the species is listed.
The California tiger salamander ( Ambystoma californiense) 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.