Conservation groups bash decision over salamanders

PORTLAND — Two rare salamanders do not need protection under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Thursday.

The agency said it found no evidence that either species is threatened by habitat loss. Moreover, researchers said increased survey efforts are leading to more Siskiyou Mountains and Scott Bar salamanders.

"The perception of extreme rarity that's been sort of perpetuated is really not turning out to be the case," said Brian Woodbridge, a Fish and Wildlife biologist. "The more people are looking, the more people are finding them and the wider the variety of habitats that they are being found in."

The findings come one year after a federal judge ruled that the agency illegally rejected a petition to protect the salamanders and ordered the agency to reconsider.

Conservation groups were not appeased Thursday. Joseph Vaile, campaign director for the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, said the agency leaned too heavily on science from a timber industry that wants to log the salamanders' habitat, which includes parts of the Klamath and Rogue River-Siskiyou national forests.

"It's not surprising, but it's disappointing," Vaile said.

Said Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity: "The Bush administration has become infamous for suppressing science to support resource extraction and this decision is no exception."

Woodbridge said he went into the study knowing there would be questions raised about the science, so he sought to ensure "a very rigorous evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the science."

Both salamanders are about 5 inches long, colored black with speckles. They have no lungs, instead breathing through their skin. They live on rocky slopes under the canopy of old-growth trees in the Siskiyou Mountains and Klamath River basin in Northern California and Southern Oregon.

Woodbridge said the overall number salamanders is difficult to quantify because they are only found on the surface under moist conditions.

"In this fairly dry part of the world that is a very narrow window of time, when it's both rainy and not ice cold."

Conservation groups have spent years seeking increased protection for the salamanders. The Fish and Wildlife Service rejected the initial petition for lack of money.

Vaile said conservation groups have yet to decide their next step.

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