Center for Biological Diversity
Increased logging of old-growth forests is threatening the survival of a unique species of salamander that lives in the Klamath-Siskiyou region of southern Oregon and northern California, according to a federal petition filed Monday by four environmental groups.
The organizations, including Cascadia Wildlands, the Center for Biological Diversity, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center and Environmental Protection Information Center, are asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to add the Siskiyou Mountains salamander to the endangered species list, which would trigger protections for the amphibians and their habitat.
“This highly specialized animal can’t adapt to logging, so it will be pushed to the brink of extinction without Endangered Species Act protections,” said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The salamander is a unique indicator species of forest health in the Siskiyou Mountains. It deserves immediate protection in the face of accelerated logging.”
The Siskiyou Mountains salamander is described as a long-bodied, short-limbed terrestrial salamander and is brown with white speckles. It lives only in isolated locations along the Klamath River, on stabilized rock talus in old-growth forests covered with thick moss.
Conservationists previously petitioned for ESA protections for the salamander in 2004. While the species was not listed, the USFWS did conduct a status review in 2006 and later developed a conservation strategy working with the Bureau of Land Management, which was intended to protect habitat for 110 salamander sub-populations on federal lands in the Applegate River watershed in southwest Oregon.
However, the BLM adopted its Western Oregon Plan Revision for 2.5 million acres of forestland in 2016, which environmental groups argue will substantially increase logging in the region and undermine protections for the salamander.
Josh Laughlin, executive director of Cascadia Wildlands based in Eugene, Ore., said the BLM’s decision shrinks buffers in half for logging along streams, and does away with the policy of “survey and manage,” which required timber planners to look for salamanders before cutting in their habitat.
“It’s clearly going to have a detrimental effect on the remaining population of Siskiyou salamanders,” Laughlin said.
Cascadia Wildlands, along with five other groups, already filed a complaint in late summer 2016 against the BLM, asking for an injunction against the agency’s Western Oregon Plan Revision. Laughlin said he expects oral arguments in the case this summer.
The ESA petition filed Monday claims the survival of the salamander depends less on overall abundance than it does on habitat protections. The groups go on to argue that “very few populations are secure from habitat destruction and alteration” related to increased logging.
The Oregon Forest Industries Council and American Forest Resource Council, meanwhile, issued a joint statement against the petition, calling it politically motivated and accusing the groups of overwhelming federal agencies with petitions and litigation instead of working collaboratively with scientists and stakeholders to produce supportive research.