New Species of Salamander Found in Siskiyou Mountains

New Species of Salamander Found in Siskiyou Mountains

May 16, 2005

For more information, please contact:
Joseph Vaile, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, 541-488-5789
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, 503-243-6643
Dave Clayton, U.S. Forest Service, 541-858-2276

Yreka CA — Researchers in the Klamath-Siskiyou region of northern California and southern Oregon discovered new populations of salamanders that represent a new and distinct species. A new species, the Scott Bar salamander (Plethodon asupak), was thought to be a Siskiyou Mountain salamander (Plethodon stormi) until genetic work revealed its unique evolutionary lineage.

“Everyone talks about how biologically rich the tropics are, but we are still discovering species right here in the Klamath-Siskiyou,” said Joseph Vaile of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, a conservation group. The species is considered a Pleistocene (a geologic epoch from 1.8 million to 10,000 years ago) and survived the last ice age 1.8 to 10,000 years ago. “This is really an exciting discovery,” said Vaile.

The Scott Bar salamander occurs in extreme northwestern California on rocky slopes under mature and old-growth forest. The dense canopies of such forest help retain moisture that is key for the survival of the salamander, which is highly sensitive to drying out. The species has no lungs; instead it breathes directly through it’s skin. Logging of old-growth forest is the principal threat to this salamander’s survival and some populations occur on private industrial forestland.

Conservation organizations petitioned the Siskiyou Mountains Salamander and any distinct populations (including those that now represent this new species) for listing under the Endangered Species Act in June of last year. The Bush administration missed the 90-day preliminary deadline and is approaching the one-year requirement for responding to the petition.

The new species has one of the smallest distributions of any salamander in North America. The rarity of the salamander, along with its extreme habitat specialization, makes it more vulnerable to natural and human threats. Protection under the Endangered Species Act for both the new species and the Siskiyou Mountains Salamander would provide essential habitat protection and ensure that adequate resources are made available for recovery efforts.

“Siskiyou Mountain Salamanders have survived for two million years in the Klamath-Siskiyou,” states Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity and primary author of the petition to protect the species. “If we protect this fascinating salamander under the Endangered Species Act it may yet survive another two million years.”

The word Asupak is the Shasta Indian name for Scott Bar, an area near the confluence of the Scott River and the Klamath River. The Scott River and Valley area was visited by various bands the Shasta Indians and eventually inhabited by the Karuk Tribe. The Karuk refer to indicator species in their understanding of nature and viewed salamanders as having the specific function of water purifier and as an omen of good luck.