Salamander endangered bid rejected

By Leon Drouin Keith, The Associated Press
Saturday December 08, 2001

LONG BEACH — State Fish and Game commissioners on Friday rejected a request by environmentalists and biologists to make the California tiger salamander an endangered species candidate, saying they needed more information. 

The Center for Biological Diversity, which had petitioned to list the species, said it would sue to get the commission to follow the recommendation of state Department of Fish and Game staff to list the species. 

“The commission ignored expert biologists, scientists for Fish and Game and lawyers for Fish and Game, and instead relied on a scientist-for-hire, who doesn’t study the species, and a lawyer misstating the legal standard,” said Brendan Cummings of the center. 

The salamander’s Santa Barbara County population is a federally endangered species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that extending the listing to its entire range to be “warranted, but precluded” because other species have a higher priority. 

Candidacy would have set up a 12-month process to determine whether to permanently list the salamander, which is found in California’s San Francisco Bay area, Central Valley and along the central coast. 

Fish and Game staff recommended the candidate listing, saying development has greatly encroached the salamander’s habitat. 

The grasslands that might support salamanders have shrunk from 9 million acres historically to about 3.7 million acres, said Sandra Morey, chief of Fish and Game’s habitat conservation branch. 

The California Farm Bureau Federation, the Wine Institute and other wine grape groups opposed the designation because even as a candidate the species would have been protected as if it were an endangered species. 

Grape growers fear the designation could prevent vineyard development. Developers also have expressed concerns that it could inhibit home building. 

Commissioners Mike Crisman and Michael Flores voted to reject the petition while Commissioner Sam Schuchat voted to accept. 

Neither Fish and Game staff, nor the three university biologists who supported the listing, could offer more precise population estimated for the species that Crisman and Flores said they needed. 

“I’d like to see what numbers are out there,” said Flores, who added that he thought environmentalists failed to make the case that the salamander’s habitat was in peril. 

“It looked to me like there was quite a bit out there,” he said. 

Wine Institute lawyer Robert Uram said environmentalists failed to meet the standard justifying a listing. 

“Unless the petition has information on population, in my view, it is simply not lawful,” he said.