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Old-Growth Forest Species Threatened by Unnatural Fire, Logging, Off-Roading and Climate Change
Bryan Bird, Wild Places Program Director, WildEarth Guardians * 505.988.9126 x 1157
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has proposed to list the Jemez Mountains salamander (Plethodon neomexicanus) as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and to designate critical habitat for the species. The small brown and gold salamander was first made a candidate for listing in 1982. The Service identified forest mismanagement, a multitude of land uses and effects from climate change as primary threats to the salamander.
“The salamander faces immense challenges to its survival from climate change and unnatural fire,” said Bryan Bird a forest ecologist with WildEarth Guardians. “The first order of business is to end the most immediate threats, including logging and off-highway vehicle use, in its only known home, the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico.”
The Jemez Mountains salamander lives in mixed-conifer forests, from 6,998 to 10,990 feet around the rim of the Valles Caldera in the Jemez Mountains in New Mexico. The salamander spends most of its time underground in moist soils—it has no lungs, and must stay moist in order to absorb oxygen through its skin. But the species is also strictly terrestrial, and though it needs moisture, it does not require standing water at any stage of its life, hatching fully-formed from the egg instead of having a tadpole phase like many other salamanders. The Jemez Mountains salamander may venture out seasonally and at night to hunt for ants, mites, and beetles inside rotted logs. When the temperature drops below 6°C in winter, it retreats underground into hibernation.
The Service found the salamander’s habitat is threatened by historical fire exclusion and suppression, and severe wildfire; changing forest composition and structure; post-fire rehabilitation; forest and fire management; past and present logging; roads, trails, and habitat fragmentation; recreation; and climate change.
The agency identified the 2011 Las Conchas Fire, which burned approximately 17,780 acres of modeled salamander habitat, as an example of wildfire that adversely affects the salamander.
Most of the Jemez Mountains salamander’s habitat is on federally managed lands, mostly on the Santa Fe National Forest, and also within the Bandelier National Monument, Valles Caldera National Preserve, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The Service has proposed to designate 90,789 acres in two large areas as critical habitat for the salamander.
WildEarth Guardians petitioned to list the Jemez Mountains salamander under the federal ESA in 2008. The salamander is listed as “endangered” under the New Mexico Wildlife Conservation Act, but the state law does not provide habitat protections for listed species.
The Jemez Mountains salamander is one of more than 800 species covered in WildEarth Guardians’ settlement agreement with the Fish and Wildlife Service, announced on May 10, 2011, and approved by a federal court on September 9, 2011. The agreement obligates the agency to make final listing determinations for 253 species by September 2016, all but one of which are formal candidates for ESA protection. The settlement resolved 12 lawsuits that Guardians filed challenging the government’s failure to timely list species under the act, and attempts to fix a listing program that has failed to function properly since the Reagan Administration. It also schedules petition findings, 12-month listing determinations, and critical habitat designations for more than 600 additional species. In return, WildEarth Guardians consented to dismiss its lawsuits and will refrain from suing Interior over missed listing deadlines for the next six years. The Service met all of its obligations under the agreement for FY 2011, taking action on 730 species.