Salamanders, Rattlesnakes, & Tortoises - Conservation News

The Center for Biological Diversity Announces news for endangered herps. Each announcment is linked to a longer press release.

47,000 Acres Protected for California Tiger Salamander
In response to a Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week designated 47,383 acres of federally protected "critical habitat" for the California tiger salamander's Sonoma County population. The move reverses a 2005 Bush decision to set aside no critical habitat; it protects many "vernal pools" that host the salamander during winter rains as well as increasingly rare grasslands and oak woodlands.

The Center earned protection for the Sonoma County tiger salamander in 2003. This yellow-spotted, black amphibian is threatened by development, pesticides, hybridization with nonnative salamanders, disease and predation.

Declining Rattlesnakes
Just days after one snake species, the Lake Erie water snake, was declared recovered thanks to the Endangered Species Act, a snake researcher and the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned to save another snake under the successful law. The eastern diamondback rattlesnake -- the largest rattlesnake in the world -- is native to the Southeast but dwindling fast due to habitat loss and human exploitation, especially through "rattlesnake roundups" -- grisly festivals that encourage the collection and slaughter of these imperiled snakes.

"The Endangered Species Act just saved the Lake Erie water snake -- it's the surest tool we have to save the diamondback rattlesnake too," said Collette Adkins Giese, the Center's attorney devoted to saving reptiles and amphibians.

Recovery Plan Weakens Desert Tortoise Protection
Instead of upgrading protections for the Mojave's desert tortoise, the species' new federal recovery plan makes matters worse for the ancient, threatened reptile. Until the new plan was released last Friday, the tortoise's recovery plan -- a document laying out steps and criteria for removing the species from the endangered list -- hadn't been updated since 1994. And now, while tortoise populations continue to crash, the revised plan fails to address some of the direst threats to the species, including livestock grazing, off-road vehicles, nonnative plants, climate change and energy development.

The Center for Biological Diversity has been working to save the desert tortoise since the '90s, when we filed our first appeals to stop harmful livestock grazing in tortoise habitat. So Center biologist Ileene Anderson has good authority to compare the old and new plans: "The new recovery plan only exacerbates the ongoing problem of desert tortoise recovery, which has been the failure to implement most of the science-based recommendations in the old plan. This plan simply doesn't cut it."

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