Conservation Groups Challenge Fish & Game Refusal to Protect Recently Discovered Salamander

Conservation Groups Challenge Fish and Game Refusal to Protect Recently Discovered Salamander

August 23, 2006

For more information, please contact:
Scott Greacen, EPIC, 707-476-8340
Joseph Vaile, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, 541-621-7808
Noah Greenwald, The Center for Biological Diversity, 503-484-7495

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – 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.”

Joseph Vaile, campaign director of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center (KS Wild) says 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. They are 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 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 have thus been 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 encouraged the logging of forests previously set aside to protect known salamander populations. Those logging attempts were hastily withdrawn when the groups challenged them in court.

The environmental groups are taking legal action now both to prevent a repeat of those logging attempts and to ensure that DFG will act in the future to protect newly recognized imperiled species. They note that by delisting the salamanders, without scientific review, public notice, or consultation with the Fish and Game Commission, DFG usurped the authority of the Commission to make listing decisions under CESA. As well, DFG never analyzed threats to the Scott Bar salamander, even though its range is among the smallest of any terrestrial salamander in North America, restricted to the mountains above the lower Scott River to its confluence with the Klamath 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 EPIC, the Environmental Protection Information Center. “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.”

The Department of Fish and Game 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 “interpretation of the science” used by the state game agency to support delisting was “seriously flawed” (letter available upon request).

The case is Environmental Protection Information Center v. California Department of Fish and Game. 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.