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Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Environmentalists Fight for Tiger Salamander

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The Center for Biological Diversity claims the Secretary of the Interior failed to protect "imperiled" California tiger salamanders more than a decade after the amphibian was listed as an endangered species.

The environmental group claims Secretary Ken Salazar and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to develop and implement recovery plans to protect three "distinct populations" of salamanders in California after their numbers dropped due to loss of habitat and exposure to non-native predators.

The inaction violates the Endangered Species and Administrative Procedures Acts, the environmental group says in its federal complaint.

"Three distinct population segments [DPS] of California tiger salamander are without recovery plans despite the fact that they have been listed under the ESA [Endangered Species Act] for years. The Central DPS of the California tiger salamander has been listed for over 7 years, the Sonoma DPS for almost 10 years, and the Santa Barbara DPS for over 12 years," the complaint states.

An adult male California tiger salamander is about 8 inches long, black, with white or pale yellow spots on its back and sides, and white and pale yellow and black on its belly. Females are usually smaller. They live in bogs, ponds or vernal; pools below 2,000 feet, and a pond's population can drop to less than 20 in dry years, making them prone to extinction.

Bullfrogs prey on adult and larval salamanders, as do mosquito fish, sunfish, Louisiana crayfish, and other nonnative fishes. Their main threat, though, is from fragmentation of habitat, caused by humans, including road-building, automobiles, offroad vehicles, and contaminated runoff from roads, highways, and agriculture.

"Although the three California tiger salamander populations have been listed for years with finalized or proposed critical habitat, none have recovery plans.

"A recovery team was appointed in 2001 for the Santa Barbara DPS but has not met since March 2003," the complaint states.

Mosquito pesticide and ground squirrel poison also kill salamanders, the Center says.

The complaint states: "FWS's failure to develop and implement recovery plans for this imperiled species constitutes agency action unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed, and is otherwise not in accordance with law within the meaning of the Administrative Procedure Act.

"Section 4(f) of the ESA provides that FWS 'shall develop and implement plans for the conservation and survival of endangered species and threatened species listed pursuant to [the ESA], unless [FWS] finds that such a plan will not promote the conservation of the species.'" (Brackets in complaint; citation omitted.)

The Center for Biological Diversity and its 37,000 members "are concerned with the conservation of imperiled species, including the California tiger salamander, and the effective implementation of the ESA," the complaint states.

"The Center's members derive professional, aesthetic, spiritual, recreational, economic, and educational benefits from the California tiger salamander and its habitats."

The Center seeks declaratory judgment that Fish and Wildlife Service's continued inaction is illegal, and an injunction ordering the defendants to develop recovery plans for the California tiger salamander "by the earliest possible date."

The plaintiffs are represented by Justin Augustine with Center for Biological Diversity.

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