For Immediate Release, June 13, 2022

Contact:

Will Harlan, Center for Biological Diversity, (828) 230-6818, WHarlan@biologicaldiversity.org
Jake Bleich, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-3208, jbleich@defenders.org
Joseph Apodaca, Amphibian and Reptile Conservancy, JJ@ARCprotects.org

Endangered Species Protection Sought for North Carolina’s Hickory Nut Gorge Green Salamanders

BAT CAVE, N.C.— Conservation groups petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today to protect Hickory Nut Gorge green salamanders under the Endangered Species Act.

These green-splotched salamanders live only in a single 14-mile-long gorge in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Scientists estimate there are only a few hundred of them left on Earth.

“Without federal protection, this precious salamander will go extinct,” said Will Harlan, senior campaigner and scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It has been clinging to the gorge’s walls for millions of years. But now, to keep holding on, it urgently needs the Fish and Wildlife Service to act.”

The Hickory Nut Gorge salamander’s small range and population make it particularly vulnerable to the effects of habitat destruction and diversity loss due to inbreeding. Development for tourism, real estate and energy infrastructure have fragmented its remaining habitat; the nonprofit NatureServe already considers the salamander “critically imperiled.”

“Like many of southern Appalachia’s iconic salamanders, this species is facing an existential crisis brought on by habitat loss and climate change,” said Ben Prater, Southeast program director at Defenders of Wildlife. “The Fish and Wildlife Service must institute critical protections for the Hickory Nut Gorge green salamander and its habitat before it’s too late.”

Only first discovered in 2020, the species has lived in this rugged landscape for roughly 12 million years. It’s vital to the forest’s ecosystem, playing a key role in the food web and assisting with the process of nutrient cycling. Unlike most salamanders, it spends the majority of its life in trees and rock outcrops, using its unique markings to stay camouflaged in the foliage.

“This ancient salamander exemplifies the biological richness and history of the Hickory Nut Gorge,” said Joseph Apodaca, executive director at the Amphibian and Reptile Conservancy. “Sadly, human exploitation of this fragile ecosystem puts it, along with scores of other species, at risk. Thankfully, there’s still time to take meaningful steps to protect the gorge’s irreplaceable biodiversity.”

In addition to petitioning the Service to protect the green salamander, the Center and Defenders of Wildlife are working with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and others in the Hickory Nut Gorge to protect salamander populations.

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Hickory Nut Gorge green salamander. Credit: Todd Pierson. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Defenders of Wildlife is celebrating 75 years of protecting all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With a nationwide network of nearly 2.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit defenders.org/newsroom and follow us on Twitter @Defenders.