| For Immediate Release August 23, 2006
Contacts: Scott Greacen, EPIC, Eureka, Calif. (707) 476-8340
Conservation Groups Challenge Fish and Game’s Refusal
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – A coalition of conservation groups filed suit in California state court today, challenging the refusal of the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) to protect the recently discovered Scott Bar Salamander under California’s state endangered species law. Rather than herald the new species – a rare subset of an already threatened species – DFG stripped the salamanders of protection, subjecting them to immediate threat from logging operations.
“The recognition of the Scott Bar Salamander is one of the most exciting developments in conservation science in this region in decades,” said Noah Greenwald, a conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). “It is appalling that the Department of Fish and Game, the agency responsible for protecting California’s incredible diversity of life, is using this discovery as an excuse to deprive these very same salamanders of the protections they clearly need – of the protections they in fact had before they were recognized as unique.”
The Scott Bar Salamander (Plethodon asupak) was first described as a new species in a May 2005, when a scientific paper separated it from the Siskiyou Mountains Salamander (P stormi). The latter species is listed as threatened under California’s Endangered Species Act (CESA). Many of the known sites of the new species were thus protected from logging – until now. DFG not only took the position that because the new species’ name is not on the agency’s list it does not need protection, but also actually encouraged the logging of old-growth forests previously set aside to protect known salamander populations.
Joseph Vaile, campaign director of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center (KS Wild) said that DFG is taking advantage of the new discovery to open up the species’ habitat to clearcut logging. “Fish and Game is playing dumb about the threats to the Scott Bar Salamander. It is saying ‘we don’t see the new Scott Bar Salamander on our list of threatened species so we don’t need to protect them, and we can now allow logging in areas that were protected last year,’” said Vaile.
The environmental groups are taking legal action now both to prevent a repeat of those logging attempts, which were hastily withdrawn when the same groups filed previous legal challenges, and to ensure that DFG will act in the future to protect newly recognized imperiled species. They note that by delisting the salamanders under CESA without scientific review, public notice or consultation with the Fish and Game Commission, DFG usurped the authority of the Commission to make listing decisions. Additionally, DFG never analyzed whether the Scott Bar Salamander merits protection even though its range is among the smallest of any terrestrial salamander in North America, occurring only in the steep mountains above the lower Scott River to its confluence with the Klamath River at Scott Bar.
“Willful blindness and bureaucratic games just won’t cut it when a three-million-year old species is on the line,” said Scott Greacen, public lands coordinator with the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC). “In a situation like this, DFG has a moral and a legal responsibility to get on the ball, not to put the species’ habitat behind the eight-ball. Wildlife are a public trust, and DFG’s most important job is to protect that trust for the future.”
DFG is separately attempting to delist the Siskiyou Mountains Salamander, which would be the first time any California species has lost such protection. This move has been sharply criticized by primary experts on the biology of these salamanders. Forest Service scientist and Siskiyou Mountains Salamander researcher, Dr. Hartwell Welsh, concluded that the “interpretation of the science” used by DFG to support delisting was “seriously flawed” (letter available upon request).
Attorneys Sharon Duggan, Michael Graf and Kevin Bundy represent the plaintiffs. Media queries for attorneys should be directed to Kevin Bundy; he may be reached at (415) 552-7272 x 289.