Salamander ruling disputed

Five environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the federal government Thursday, challenging its decision not to extend Endangered Species Act protection to a pair of north state amphibians.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in April that it would not list either the Siskiyou Mountain or Scott Bar salamanders as endangered or threatened species, saying California and the U.S. Forest Service already have protections in place. But those protections could disappear, the environmental groups contend.
"They substantially relied on protections that are on the chopping block and are in the process of being eliminated," said Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the environmental groups in the lawsuit.

The state is in the process of removing the Siskiyou Mountain salamander from its threatened species list. Meanwhile, the U.S. Forest Service is rewriting its "survey and manage" rules, which require influences on animals such as the salamanders to be taken into account before a timber sale goes through.

Fish and Wildlife Service officials declined comment, saying their policy is to not talk about pending litigation.

Along with the Center for Biological Diversity, the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Oregon Natural Resources Council, Cascadia Wildlands Project and the Environmental Protection Information Center also are involved in the lawsuit.

While state scientists say recently collected data for the Siskiyou Mountain salamander shows it isn't threatened, the environmental groups say the critter along with the Scott Bar salamander are in dire straits. The Scott Bar salamander, a cousin of the Siskiyou Mountain salamander, was only described as its own species a year ago.

The two salamanders are vulnerable because they have small ranges. They live on rock-covered slopes tucked into old growth forests. "They occupy a very narrow niche," Greenwald said.

Biologists first found the Siskiyou Mountain salamander, which grows 3 to 5 inches in length, in 1963. In 1971, the state listed it as "rare" because its range was estimated to be only 6 square miles. Scientists now say the salamander has a range of at least 277 square miles.

The state Department of Fish and Game, which announced its plans to delist the Siskiyou Mountain salamander in February, is now working on an updated status report for the species, said Mark Stopher, a fish and game environmental program manager based in Redding.

The agency will present the review to the state Fish and Game Commission, which oversees the department, at its November meeting, slated for Redding. The commission is expected to make a decision in May.

Stopher said protection for the salamander is not needed.

"We want to focus the resources we have on species that need our attention," Stopher said.