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California Tiger Salamander: Updates under Federal and California Endangered Species Acts

By: Robert D. Thornton, Paul S. Weiland
08/17/09

The United States District Court for the Northern District of California approved a settlement agreement on May 2009 regarding the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's ("Service") 2005 Final Rule designating critical habitat for the Sonoma "distinct population segment" ("DPS") of the California tiger salamander. Center for Biological Diversity v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Serv., No. 08-4595-WHA, May 5, 2009. Under the settlement agreement, the Service must reconsider the 2005 Final Rule, which excluded all 17,418 acres identified as critical habitat for the Sonoma DPS and publish a new proposed rule covering the same geographic area - approximately 74,000 acres - covered in the 2005 proposed rule by August 5, 2009. The Service must issue a final rule by July 1, 2011.

In addition, the California tiger salamander is receiving new protections under the California Endangered Species Act ("CESA") throughout its range in California. The California Fish and Game Commission approved the protection of the California tiger salamander under CESA. On February 5, 2009 the Commission approved the designation of the tiger salamander as a candidate species for listing as endangered under CESA. As a candidate species, the California tiger salamander now receives the same protections afforded to species listed as threatened or endangered under CESA: "take" of the species is unlawful without a permit issued by the California Department of Fish and Game. The range of the California tiger salamander extends in the coastal region from Santa Barbara County to Sonoma County and in the Central Valley and Sierra Nevada foothills from Yolo to Kern counties.

The California tiger salamander is listed under the federal Endangered Species Act ("ESA") in three "distinct population segments," Central, Santa Barbara, and Sonoma. The critical habitat designation for the Sonoma population is the only critical habitat designation affected by the settlement agreement.

Under the ESA, the Fish and Wildlife Service must designate critical habitat—areas containing features essential to the conservation of the species that may require special management or protection—for species listed as threatened or endangered. The Service is responsible for issuing permits for take of the species under the ESA. Federal agencies who undertake actions that may affect the California tiger salamander or its critical habitat are required to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service and to comply with the ESA.

The California Fish and Game Commission decision follows several years of regulatory and judicial proceedings concerning the salamander. In 2001, the Commission rejected a petition to list the tiger salamander. The Court of Appeal overturned the Commission's decision. Center for Biological Diversity v. California Fish and Game Commission, California Third District Court of Appeal Case No. C055059, Sept. 2, 2008.

The designation of the California tiger salamander as a candidate species triggers a one year study by the California Department of Fish and Game and a decision by the Commission whether to list the tiger salamander under CESA as endangered or threatened species. The Commission has until February 4, 2010 to decide whether to list the species under CESA.

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