Endangered New Mexico Lizard Gets Protection

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the elusive Jemez Mountains salamander as endangered under the Endangered Species Act and plans to designate critical habitat for it in the near future.
     The listing decision is part of the 2011 historic settlement agreement between the agency and the Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental groups to speed listing decisions for hundreds of plants and animals across the country through a court-approved five-year work plan.
     Noting that listing was “possibly appropriate” in 1982, the agency did not act then due to insufficient information. A 1990 petition spurred a 90-day finding that there was enough information to support a listing proposal, but the 12-month review that followed in 1992 found that conservation measures might have improved the salamanders’ plight. The agency was petitioned again in 2008, but the listing was sidelined due to “higher priority concerns,” according to the Sept. 12, 2012 proposed rule.
     These salamanders have lived in the Jemez Mountains in northern New Mexico for at least 10,000 years, and possibly as long as 1.2 million years, according to the final action. It lives exclusively around the rim and within the collapsed Valles Caldera.
     The dark brown salamander is not aquatic in any life stage, but since it is has no lungs, it requires a moist microclimate for oxygen exchange through the skin. It lives most of its life underground, coming to the surface only during warm wet conditions. Its movements tend to be vertical as it moves above and below ground, so its limited horizontal movements over land increase “habitat connectivity limitations” for the species, creating population isolation, which in turn contributes to inbreeding.
     “Current and future effects from warmer climate conditions in the Jemez Mountains could reduce the amount of suitable salamander habitat, reduce the time period when the species can be active above ground, and increase the moisture demands and subsequent physiological stress on salamanders. Warming and drying trends in the Jemez Mountains currently are threats to the species, and these threats are projected to continue into the future,” the action noted.
     The salamander and its habitat also face threats from fire management, severe wild fires, forest management, roads, trails and recreation, all of which contribute to habitat fragmentation.
     Although the majority of salamander habitat is on federally managed lands, including by the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service (Bandelier National Monument), Valles Caldera National Preserve and Los Alamos National Laboratory, and even though the New Mexico Wildlife Conservation Act provides some protections for the salamander, specifically against people taking or injuring them, the existing regulatory mechanisms were found to be inadequate to protect the salamander’s habitat from loss, degradation and fragmentation.
     “The Jemez Mountains salamander is presently in danger of extinction now based on the severity of threats currently impacting the salamander. The threats are both current and expected to continue in the future, and are significant in that they limit all behavioral and physiological functions, including breathing, feeding, and reproduction and reproductive success, and extend across the entire range of the species. This meets the definition of endangered,” the agency said.
     After the publication of the proposed rule last year, the agency held two comment periods and a peer review. The final action provided clarification in some areas such as habitat variables, population connectivity and “soil moisture relationships,” but did not alter the “threats assessment” or the determination
     The listing is effective Oct. 10.

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