Court Rules Rare Salamanders Were Illegally Denied Protection Under ESA

Court Rules Rare Salamanders Were Illegally Denied Protection Under ESA

January 19, 2007

For more information, please contact:
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, 503-484-7495
Joseph Vaile, Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center, 541-621-7808
Amy Atwood, Western Environmental Law Center, 541-914-8372

San Francisco, Calif. — In response to a suit brought by a coalition of five conservation groups, federal judge William Alsup ruled today that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service illegally denied protection to the Siskiyou Mountains and Scott Bar salamanders as threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. The judge ordered the Service to issue a new 90-day finding on the petition by March 23, 2007, which will likely begin a 12-month review of the salamanders’ status.

“With the worst record protecting the nation’s wildlife of any modern presidency, the Bush administration has once again suppressed science for the benefit of their campaign contributors in the timber industry,” says Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re delighted that the Siskiyou and newly discovered Scott Bar salamanders, which are threatened by extensive logging, will finally be considered for the protection they deserve.”

To date, the Bush administration has protected just 56 species—by far the fewest for any five-year period in the history of the Endangered Species Act. There were 512 species protected under Bill Clinton and 234 protected during the first Bush presidency. The current administration has denied or delayed protection for hundreds of imperiled species.

“We have a responsibility to prevent the extinction of wildlife, because once they are gone, we cannot bring them back.” said Joseph Vaile, campaign director for the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center. “The Scott Bar Salamander was just discovered last year. It would be a tragedy if politics led to its extinction.”

Both species of salamander live in mature and old-growth forests such as those that once covered much of the Northwest. Today only fragments of these forests remain, facing increasing pressure from logging and development. In the finding, the Fish and Wildlife Service admitted that logging affects the salamanders’ habitat and had occurred extensively throughout the species’ ranges, but denied protection anyway based on a purported lack of information. Judge Alsup flatly rejected this flimsy rationale, stating: “This order agrees that on this record, plaintiffs have demonstrated substantial information presented by various scientists that logging and other activity threatened the salamanders.”

“Logging of the last remaining old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest threatens the survival of not just the Siskiyou Mountains and Scott Bar salamanders but countless other species,” according to Amy Atwood, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center, which represented the groups. “Today’s decision was a victory for salamanders, old-growth forests, and future generations that just may have a chance to observe these unique salamanders and other members of the complex web of life found in Pacific Northwest forests.”

Groups on the suit include the Center for Biological Diversity, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Environmental Protection Information Center, Oregon Wild and Cascadia Wildlands Project. The groups were represented by Amy Atwood, attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center, Erin Madden, attorney, and Sharon Duggan, attorney.