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WildEarth Guardians Sues to Protect Jemez Mountains Salamander

September 10, 2014
Bryan Bird (505) 699-4719
In This Release
Public Lands, Wildlife   Jemez Mountains salamander
Albuquerque, NM–WildEarth Guardians is alleging today in federal court that the Santa Fe National Forest is failing to protect the Jemez Mountains salamander from off roaders and other motorized activities. The complaint contends the national forest failed to enter formal consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) over its ongoing authorization of motorized uses and that the salamander – found only one place in the world – is jeopardized by those uses.

“The Jemez is a one-of-a-kind, wild place and the salamander is found only there,” said Bryan Bird a biologist with WildEarth Guardians in Santa Fe. “It should not be threatened by motorcycles and other motorized uses.”

Motorized travel in the Santa Fe National Forest harms the Jemez Mountains salamander, both through destruction of its habitat by means including subterranean soil compaction and habitat fragmentation and through direct mortality as a result of vehicle strikes. WildEarth Guardians is seeking an injunction providing that those specific portions of the Forest Service’s Travel Management Plan that may cause jeopardy to the salamander and/or destruction or adverse modification of its designated critical habitat must be suspended pending completion of consultation.

“We have an eminent responsibility to protect this little salamander,” said Bird. “Motorcycles have created their own tracks across the habitat causing impacts to the animal and to water quality. The Santa Fe National Forest cannot unilaterally rubber stamp these motorized trails.”

The Travel Management Plan was finalized in the June2012 and constrains the Forest Service’s management of all motorized travel on the national forest, including both on and off-road travel. Specifically, the Travel Management Plan constitutes the Forest Service’s determination of which routes in the national forest are open to motorized travel, and which routes are closed to motorized travel.

The Jemez Mountains salamander, as its name would suggest, is endemic to the Jemez Mountains in northern New Mexico and is found nowhere else in the world. Its sole habitat is around the rim of a collapsed volcanic crater, with the exception of a few occurrences within the crater. The FWS considers “the establishment of roads and trails to be a threat that will likely continue to impact the salamander and its habitat, increasing the risk of extirpation of some localities.” Additionally, the FWS has acknowledged that “some individual salamanders maybe killed or injured by vehicles and that use impacts salamander habitat” and recognized that “the extensive roads that currently exist in the Jemez Mountains have significantly impacted the salamander and its habitat due to the possible death and injury of salamanders; fragmentation and population isolation; habitat loss; habitat modification near road edges; and in some cases, increased exposure to chemicals, salts, and pollution.”

WildEarth Guardians has sought protection for this salamander since 2008. The FWS designated critical habitat in Los Alamos, Rio Arriba, and Sandoval Counties, New Mexico. The salamander was listed as endangered on October 10, 2013 and critical habitat was designated on November 20, 2013. 78 Fed. Reg. 55,600 and 69,569.