SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – Thirteen years after designation as a threatened species, the central California tiger salamander finally has a required recovery plan. The plan is due to a settlement agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) conservation group, which sued the agency over the delinquent plan in 2012.
“With a recovery plan we can fight threats like habitat destruction that have pushed these extraordinary salamanders to the brink of extinction,” Jenny Loda, a CBD biologist and attorney, said. “This plan gives us hope for one of our most imperiled salamanders.”
California tiger salamanders are large thick-bodied black and yellow amphibians. They live in vernal pools, which are seasonal pools that form in spring after winter rains, and typically evaporate mostly or completely in the heat of summer. In their aquatic stage of development, the salamanders have feathery external gills that are quite dramatic. In their adult form, they live in underground burrows.
“The primary causes of the decline of California tiger salamander populations are hybridization with introduced barred salamanders and the loss and fragmentation of habitat from urban development and farming. Much of the habitat for the central California tiger salamander has been protected through the efforts of the service (USFWS) and many of our partners. We are continuing to work with our partners to reduce the extent of hybridization and manage the habitat to ensure it can support viable populations of the species,” the agency said. The salamanders also face threats from introduced diseases, predation by non-native species, pesticide use, road crossings, and climate change.
The California tiger salamander is found in three distinct populations. The smaller Santa Barbara County and Sonoma County populations are both listed as endangered under the ESA, and have their own recovery plans. The central California population is found in the San Joaquin-Sacramento River valleys, bordering foothills and the coastal valleys of central California.
According to the USFWS, the ESA has been 99 percent successful in preventing extinctions of listed species. One of its main tools for doing that work is the recovery plan. Without a recovery plan, the status designation of threatened or endangered, even coupled with a critical habitat designation, is not sufficient to save the species. The recovery plan is the roadmap of actions to be taken over time to bring the species back from the brink of extinction and move it in the direction of full recovery, which would mean removing it from the federal List of Endangered and Threatened Species.
The agency’s recovery plan for the central California distinct population segment of California tiger salamander estimates the species can be recovered by 2067. The main focus of the plan is to alleviate habitat loss and fragmentation to increase the three Rs: resiliency, redundancy and representation. Resiliency means ensuring each population is large enough to survive environmental events such as wildfires, floods or hurricanes; redundancy means ensuring there are enough populations that some populations would survive even if a catastrophic event wiped out other populations; and representation means conserving the native genetic makeup of the species to protect its adaptive capabilities.
“This recovery plan does not add acres to existing critical habitat designations. The recovery areas described in this plan were selected to address the conservation of aquatic and upland habitat that provide essential connectivity, reduce fragmentation, and provide habitat to support viable populations of the species,” the agency said.
The recovery plan also provides a framework for coordinating the conservation efforts of multiple federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations and landowners. Over 550,000 acres of habitat for this salamander is protected by conservation easements or owned by government agencies or conservation organizations, including nearly 8,000 acres set aside in 12 conservation banks to offset impacts from development projects that affect the salamanders’ habitat, The plan also oversees 40,000 acres covered under safe harbor agreements with private landowners.
“Protecting the wild places these unique tiger salamanders need to survive won’t be easy, but we can’t afford to lose these beautiful amphibians forever,” Loda said. “I hope federal, state and local agencies, as well as developers and farmers, will all step up to support the important work of recovery.”