Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, August 24, 2022


Will Harlan, (828) 230-6818,

Federal Protection Sought for Rare Salamander in Coal Country

11 Organizations Petition for Endangered Status for Yellow-Spotted Woodland Salamander

CHARLESTON, W.Va.— The Center for Biological Diversity and 10 partner organizations petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today to protect the yellow-spotted woodland salamander under the Endangered Species Act. Only a few hundred of these salamanders likely remain.

“The yellow-spotted woodland salamander is one of the most endangered species on the planet,” said Will Harlan, a senior campaigner and scientist at the Center. “Without endangered species protection, this salamander will go extinct.”

Many yellow-spotted woodland salamanders live in West Virginia, with smaller numbers in Virginia and Kentucky and one population in Tennessee. They live only on shale and sandstone outcrops in central Appalachia. The same sites are targeted by mountaintop removal mining, which uses explosives that blast apart mountains to access coal seams. More than 500 mountains and 1.4 million acres of forest in Appalachia have been destroyed by mountaintop removal mining over the past 40 years.

Three known yellow-spotted woodland salamander populations have been wiped out by mining and road construction in the past decade, and many others have likely been obliterated by mountaintop removal mining. Most remaining yellow-spotted woodland salamander populations consist of only one or a few individuals and are no longer viable.

This slender, purplish-brown lungless salamander is distinguished by two rows of yellow spots along its back. Two genetic studies from 2018 and 2019 confirmed that the yellow-spotted woodland salamander is a distinct species.

Appalachian Mountain Advocates, Citizens Coal Council, Appalachian Voices, The Clinch Coalition, Dogwood Alliance and Kentucky Waterways Alliance are among the additional community organizations joining the petition.

“These salamanders have scampered across Appalachian rock walls for millions of years,” said Harlan. “But if they’re going to survive, they urgently need the Fish and Wildlife Service to act.”

Yellow-spotted woodland salamander photo by Kevin Hutcheson. 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.

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