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For Immediate Release, March 21, 2011

Contact: Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681 

Obama Administration Denies Protection to Knoxville Area Salamander

KNOXVILLE, Tenn.— The Obama administration denied Endangered Species Act protection today to the Berry Cave salamander, a rare Tennessee amphibian that government scientists say needs federal protection to keep it from going extinct. The Berry Cave salamander is known from only nine locations in eastern Tennessee in Knox, Meigs, McMinn and Roane counties. In surveys conducted from 2004-2007, only 63 salamanders were found.

Using a tactic that has become commonplace on President Barack Obama’s watch, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the salamander warrants federal protection but won’t get it. Instead, the species was added to a growing list of “candidates” for protection, where it will wait for same indefinitely. To date, Obama’s Interior Department has used the “warranted-but-precluded” designation for 23 species — more than any other administration. Now 259 species are on the candidate list, where, on average, they wait 20 years before they get protection. At least 24 species have gone extinct while waiting.

“Today’s decision could doom the Berry Cave salamander to extinction, because this rare Tennessee species desperately needs Endangered Species Act protection to survive,” said Tierra Curry, a conservation biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity, which is working to save hundreds of species relegated to the candidate list. 

Today’s finding that the salamander requires protection, but will not receive it, responds to a 2010 lawsuit by the Center over the Fish and Wildlife Service’s failure to respond to a 2003 petition from a scientist at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville to protect the species. The Service took seven years to issue a 90-day finding on the 2003 petition, and only issued today’s 12-month finding after the Center’s lawsuit.

Berry Cave salamanders live in small populations in underground caves with flowing water, where they feed on small insects. The salamanders grow up to nine inches long and retain juvenile body form as adults. They’re threatened by declining water quality caused by urban sprawl from Knoxville, as well as by pollution from logging, pesticides and quarrying. Salamanders are particularly vulnerable to pollution because toxins are easily absorbed through their thin, permeable skin.

To date, the Obama government has only given Endangered Species Act protection to 58 species, for a rate of 29 species per year. In contrast, President Clinton protected 522 species under the Endangered Species Act for a rate of 65 species per year, while the first Bush administration protected 232 species for a rate of 58 per year.

“The Obama government is dragging its feet on protecting our country’s most threatened species,” said Curry. “The Endangered Species Act can save our plants and animals, but only if they’re given actual protection under the Act.”

The Center and other groups have an active lawsuit in Washington, D.C., showing that continued delays in protecting candidate species are illegal because the Fish and Wildlife Service is not making expeditious progress listing species as the Act requires.

Learn more about the Center’s campaign to earn protection for all the candidate species.

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