Lawsuit Seeks Overdue Protection for Rare Siskiyou Mountain Salamander

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Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019

EPIC and allies sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for failing to respond to a 2018 petition requesting Endangered Species Act protection for the imperiled Siskiyou Mountains salamander.

This rare terrestrial salamander lives only in the Klamath-Siskiyou region of southern Oregon and Northern California, primarily in old-growth forests. The species is threatened by U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management plans to increase logging in southern Oregon.

“With increasing threats from climate change and intense wildfires, this rare salamander can’t afford to lose any more habitat to logging,” said Jeff Miller, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Under a Trump administration hostile to endangered species, the Fish and Wildlife Service is dragging its feet and pushing the salamander closer to extinction.”

“The threats to the Siskiyou Mountains salamander just keep getting worse while the Fish and Wildlife Service plays politics,” said George Sexton with KS Wild. “In particular the BLM and Forest Service decisions to target salamander habitat for post-fire logging need to stop if these iconic salamanders are to have a chance to survive and thrive.”

“This unique Pacific Northwest salamander deserves protection from impending extinction,” said Nick Cady with Cascadia Wildlands. “Not only does the species play an important ecological role by contributing to nutrient flow and soil health, this salamander is a distinct part of this region’s natural heritage.”

“Salamanders are an important indicator species,” said Tom Wheeler, executive director of EPIC. “If the Siskiyou Mountains salamander is not doing well, it means that the ecosystem is unhealthy. Hopefully, this lawsuit is a wakeup call that species are headed to extinction in our own backyard.”

In March 2018 the Environmental Protection Information Center, Center for Biological Diversity, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center and Cascadia Wildlands filed a formal petition asking the Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the Siskiyou Mountains salamander under the Endangered Species Act. A 90-day finding on the listing petition was due in June 2018, and a 12-month was due in March 2019.

Background
The best habitat for the Siskiyou Mountains salamander (Plethodon stormi) is stabilized rock talus in old-growth forest, especially areas covered with thick moss. Mature forest canopy helps maintain a cool and stable moist microclimate where the salamanders can thrive.

There are two distinct populations of Siskiyou Mountains salamanders, separated by the mountain range’s crest. A larger northern population lives in the Applegate River drainage in southern Oregon, while the smaller, southern population is in California’s Klamath River drainage. Most known Siskiyou Mountains salamander locations are on public lands managed by the BLM and Forest Service.

Conservation groups first petitioned to protect the salamander under the Endangered Species Act in 2004. To prevent the species’ listing, the BLM and Fish and Wildlife Service agreed in 2007 to protect habitat for 110 high-priority salamander sites in the Applegate River watershed in southern Oregon. In 2008 the Fish and Wildlife Service denied protection to the salamander based on this conservation agreement and old-growth forest protections provided by the Northwest Forest Plan.

Under the Northwest Forest Plan, the BLM and Forest Service were required to survey for rare species like the salamander and designate protected buffers from logging where the animals were found. But the Western Oregon Plan Revision adopted by the BLM in 2016 substantially increases logging allowed in western Oregon forests, undermining those habitat protections.