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Press Releases

Win Secures Meaningful ESA Protections for Imperiled Salamander

Date
September 26, 2018
Contact
Stuart Wilcox, (720) 507-1969, swilcox@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
Public Lands
Santa Fe, NM—Jemez Mountain salamanders live in only one place on Earth, the rim and crater of a million-year-old collapsed volcano in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico. The salamander breathes through its skin and spends nearly its entire life underground in a home range of approximately 86 square feet, which means the integrity of its underground habitat is vital to its ongoing survival. Unfortunately, soil compaction from off-highway vehicles and other threats have driven this fascinating species’ numbers down, leading the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to list them as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and to designate critical habitat for their protection in 2013. Thanks to WildEarth Guardians’ recent legal victory, the salamanders now have a fighting chance at survival and recovery.

In an attempt to severely undercut the ESA’s protections, the Forest Service had argued it was not obligated to consider the effects of its Travel Management Decision on the Jemez Mountains salamander (a process known as consultation under the ESA). U.S. Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa rejected that argument, holding the Forest Service has the power to take affirmative and specific actions to benefit the endangered salamander and therefore must consider harm to the species and its habitat from its Travel Management Decision. Today, District Court Judge Martha Vazquez adopted that holding. Judge Vazquez directed the Forest Service to immediately reinitiate consultation to ensure its Santa Fe Travel Management Decision will not harm the imperiled Jemez Mountain salamander or its critical habitat.

“It’s crazy for the Forest Service to say that it can ignore the clear threats its Travel Management Decision poses to the Jemez Mountains salamander when it still has plenty of authority to take actions to protect the species,” said Stuart Wilcox, Staff Attorney for WildEarth Guardians. “Judge Vazquez’ ruling forces the Forest Service to reckon with its decision to designate roads and trails through the salamander’s sparse, dwindling, and delicate habitat.”

“We are thrilled this legal victory will give the Jemez Mountain salamander a fighting chance for survival and recovery,” said Marla Fox, Rewilding Attorney at WildEarth Guardians. “Protections under bedrock environmental laws like the ESA depend on Federal agency implementation. This win ensures meaningful application of the ESA that is essential not just for the recovery of the Jemez Mountain salamander, but all imperiled species – especially as we see the Trump Administration continue its efforts to undercut this bedrock environmental law.”

Other Contact
Marla Fox, (651) 434-7737, mfox@wildearthguardians.org