Oregon Slender Salamander, Batrachoseps wrightorum © Steve Wagner

SACRAMENTO, Calif. In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced that five amphibians and two reptiles in California, and one reptile in Arizona, may qualify for Endangered Species Act protection. Because habitat loss and other factors are threatening them with extinction, the Center petitioned for the amphibians and reptiles in July 2012.

“California’s on the front lines of the amphibian and reptile extinction crisis, so we’re relieved these unique salamanders, lizards and snake are being considered for endangered species protection,” said Jenny Loda, a Center biologist and lawyer who works to protect amphibians and reptiles. “Species like the Shasta salamander and rubber boa are part of what makes California special and are an important part of the web of life we all depend on. With a near-perfect record at saving species from extinction, the Endangered Species Act is the best hope for saving these rare and imperiled species from extinction.”

Today’s announcement launches a full status review for the following amphibians and reptiles: Inyo Mountains salamander, Kern Plateau salamander, lesser slender salamander, limestone salamander, Shasta salamander, panamint alligator lizard, Yuman desert fringe-toed lizard and southern rubber boa. Because of unsustainable logging, toxic pesticides, the climate crisis and other human causes, nearly 1 in 4 amphibians and reptiles is at risk of dying out, scientists say. In fact, although they’ve been around for hundreds of millions of years and survived every major extinction period, now, due largely to human impacts, amphibians and reptiles are dying off at up at an alarming rate with at least 1 of every 3 amphibian and nearly 1 in 5 reptilian species worldwide in danger of extinction. In addition to their intrinsic value, these animals play important roles as predators and prey in their ecosystems and are valuable indicators of environmental health.

“With at least 160 species, California has more kinds of amphibians and reptiles than almost every other state, and like these species around the world, many are spiraling toward extinction,” said Loda. “As a native Californian, a scientist who has studied amphibians and now a lawyer working to protect these special and important animals, I would be deeply saddened if even one of California’s herpetofauna species were lost.”

The Center was joined in its petition for these four species and dozens of other amphibians and reptiles by several renowned scientists and herpetologists, including E.O. Wilson, Thomas Lovejoy and Michael Lannoo. More than 200 scientists sent a letter asking the Service to review the status of the petitioned animals.

Today’s “90-day finding” is the first in a series of required decisions on the petition and simply required the Fish and Wildlife Service to determine whether the petition presents sufficient information to warrant further consideration, a process that requires few agency resources. The next step is a full status review of the species by the Service.

View an interactive state-by-state map showing where the petitioned species live and download photos for media use.

Species Highlights
Shasta salamander (California): These 4-inch-long, dark reddish brown salamanders mottled with grayish green and tan specks have webbed toes that allow them to climb sheer, slippery rock surfaces. The salamanders live only in California’s Shasta County, in the headwaters of the Shasta Reservoir drainage. Their restricted range, coupled with ongoing threats of habitat destruction and degradation, leaves them extremely vulnerable to extinction. Known to be extremely uncommon across their limited range, these rare salamanders lay and brood their eggs in moist caves during the summer and crawl out into the open on rainy nights at other times of year. Many key salamander habitats were lost when they were submerged in Shasta Lake, after the construction of Shasta Dam. They continue to be threatened by proposals to raise Lake Shasta, which would further flood hundreds of acres of salamander habitat, as well as by timber management and human recreational activities.

Southern rubber boa (California): These nocturnal and secretive boas are vulnerable to extinction because of their very small range, which only includes the San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountains, coupled with ongoing threats of habitat destruction and degradation. This small constrictor has a stout body and smooth, shiny skin that has small scales, and is loose and wrinkled, giving it a rubbery look and feel. Known from only a small number of individuals and locations, this rare snake prefers mixed conifer-oak forests with relatively open canopies and rock outcrops. Rocks, logs and a well-developed layer of plant litter are key components of the boa’s habitat as they provide cover and maintain soil moisture. Found primarily on private lands, the rubber boa’s habitat is threatened by the rapid pace of residential and commercial development. Even those boas found on public lands are threatened by Forest Service-permitted activities, such as forest thinning projects, off-road vehicle use, logging and firewood collecting.

Yuman desert fringe-toed Lizard (Arizona): These 5-inch-long cream, tan, or reddish-brown lizards with relatively flat bodies and tails are limited to scattered areas of suitable habitat in southwestern Arizona and northwestern Sonora south to Tepoca Bay. Within its small range, suitable habitat is fragmented and faces ongoing threats of degradation and development. The lizard is restricted to sparsely vegetated, windblown sand dunes and sandy flats and is specialized for fragile aeolian sand habitats, requiring fine, loose sand for burrowing. Primarily an insect-eater, the lizard will also occasionally eat other lizards as well as buds, leaves and flowers. Although found on a number of public lands, the lizard’s habitat is still threatened in these areas from off-road vehicles. On private lands the lizard is faced with numerous threats, including commercial, residential and agricultural development.

Panamint alligator lizard (California): This lizard is found only in the desert mountains of Inyo and Mono counties in east-central California. It has declined from a loss of riparian habitat due to mining operations, off-highway vehicles, grazing, and introduction of invasive species. The lizard continues to be threatened by these activities, especially from off-road vehicle enthusiasts exploring the Panamint Mountains.

Limestone salamander (California): This salamander is at risk of extinction due to its extremely restricted range in small sections of the Merced River, near the main highway to Yosemite National Park. They are threatened by gold mining, road building and quarrying for limestone.

Kern Plateau salamander (California): These recently described salamanders are endemic to the southeastern Sierra Nevada, including Tulare, Inyo and Kern counties. Their reliance on springs makes them vulnerable to capping of springs by humans or other alterations to the spring water or habitat. The salamanders are also threatened by renewable energy projects and suffers from road mortality.

Inyo Mountains salamander (California): In its extremely restricted range in the Inyo Mountains, the salamander faces ongoing threats of habitat destruction. It relies on small permanent desert springs and seeps with riparian vegetation that are threatened by water diversion, mining activities and grazing. Because its range is less than 50 acres, the salamander is especially vulnerable to extreme weather events like flash flooding which are expected to increase in frequency due to climate change.

Lesser slender salamander (California): This salamander occupies relatively dry, high elevation sites within its small range in the southern Santa Lucia Range of north-central San Luis Obispo County. Locally common about 25 years ago, the salamander is now almost impossible to find, driven toward extinction by road building and other development.
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