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Troubled Salamander Gets in Line for Federal Protection

Secretary Salazar Again Drags Feet on Endangered Species Program

Santa Fe, NM-Sept. 9. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar published a decision in today’s Federal Register that the Jemez Mountains salamander warrants Endangered Species Act listing. However, Mr. Salazar stated that protection is precluded due to “higher priorities.” The salamander is therefore a candidate for listing. In essence, it has been placed in a waiting line where it could remain for decades to come all the while, unprotected.

“This salamander is declining due to a variety of threats in its northern New Mexico habitat. Secretary Salazar should immediately propose this animal for federal protection, not toss it into the purgatory of candidate status,” stated Nicole Rosmarino, Wildlife Program Director of WildEarth Guardians.

Prompt protective action is particularly deserved given that the government describes the species as facing “high-magnitude and imminent threats” and considers it to be at the highest risk of extinction. The decision includes a long laundry list of dangers faced by this animal: “the petitioned action to list the Jemez Mountains is warranted, due to a combination of risk of historical and current fire management practices, severe wildland fire, forest composition and structure conversions, post-fire rehabilitation treatments, forest management (including silvicultural practices), private residential development, roads, trails, habitat fragmentation, and recreation. The salamander may also be threatened by disease and chemical use. Some of these threats may be exacerbated by the current and projected effects of climate change, and we have determined that the current and projected effects from climate change directly threaten the salamander. The loss of one of the largest known populations, the documented modification of the habitat from fire exclusion, and severe wildland fire places this species at great risk. Cumulative threats to the salamander are not being adequately addressed through existing regulatory mechanisms. Because of the limited distribution of this endemic species and its lack of mobility, threats are likely to render the species at risk of extinction in the foreseeable future.”

For a species to enjoy Endangered Species Act safeguards, it must be added to the list of endangered or threatened species. The national listing program continues to stagnate, with only 1 new U.S. species in the lower 48 states listed thus far under Secretary Salazar. In his decision on the salamander, Mr. Salazar complained that, while listing was appropriate, it was “precluded” by higher priorities. However, Mr. Salazar is not listing higher priority species, but rather he is listing few new species at all. As a result, nearly 250 species await protection as “candidates” for ESA listing. Some have waited for decades.

“It’s time for endangered species in this country to actually receive protection under the Endangered Species Act. This continued tendency of the federal government to shuffle paper rather than take effective protection action needs to end,” stated Rosmarino.

Guardians filed the lawsuit that forced today’s decision for the Jemez Mountains salamander during its “BioBlitz,” a series of actions taken to celebrate the International Year of Biodiversity (see here), of which WildEarth Guardians is a partner. During this year, through the United Nations, “The world is invited to take action in 2010 to safeguard the variety of life on earth: biodiversity.”

View the Finding here.


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