Agency Plans to Protect N.M. Salamander

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to protect a slender brown salamander facing serious challenges from wildfires and climate change, according to a proposed rule.
     Read Courthouse News’ Environmental Law Review.
The amphibian only lives around the Valles Caldera in the Jemez Mountains of northern New Mexico.
     Even though the salamander does not require standing water for any part of its life cycle, it has no lungs and must have a moist microclimate for respiration through the skin, the action states. The salamander lives mostly underground but is active above ground during summer rains when it is warm and wet, according to the action. When above ground, it is usually found under decayed logs, rocks, bark and moss mats.
     The severity of wildland fires in the salamanders’ range, the effects of fire management practices that alter habitat and the past removal of large trees used for cover have combined with increasingly warmer temperatures to place this species “at great risk of extinction” throughout its range, according to the agency.
     The agency determined that a listing for the species was “possibly appropriate” in 1982, but noted that there was insufficient information to support a proposed rule at that time. After a 1990 petition, the agency issued a 90-day finding that the petition contained enough information to support a listing proposal, but the agency’s 1992 12-month review found that the listing was not warranted due to conservation measures, and the agency gave the salamander a trend status of “improving” as a result.
     WildEarth Guardians petitioned the agency on behalf of the salamander in 2008, and a 90-day finding once again noted that listing might be warranted. The agency did not issue a 12-month finding until after a settlement with the group in 2010, but once again declined to list the species citing “higher priority concerns.” The current proposed listing is a result of a 2011 settlement agreement between the federal agency and environmental groups that “attempts to fix a listing program that has failed to function properly since the Reagan Administration,” a WildEarth Guardians press release claims.
     Of the 90,789 acres of critical habitat proposed for the salamander, nearly 88,000 acres of it are on federal lands in Los Alamos, Rio Arriba and Sandoval Counties, New Mexico, the action states.
     The agency requests information on threats to the salamander and its habitat, including impacts from such things as fire management practices, severe wildfires, forest changes, fire rehabilitation efforts, salvage logging, road and trail construction, and recreation.

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