The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) recently announced its finding that three salamander species do not warrant listing as endangered or threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Service’s announcement follows a court-approved settlement agreement in which the Service agreed to make a 12-month finding for the Shasta salamander (Hydromantes shastae), Samwel salamander (H. samweli), and Wintu salamander (H. wintu). The finding comes despite concerns from some environmental groups that a proposed project to raise the height of the Shasta Dam and enlarge the reservoir would impact the three species due to inundation and loss of habitat.

The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) petitioned the Service to list 53 species of reptiles and amphibians, including the Shasta salamander, on July 11, 2012. On September 18, 2015, the Service published its 90-day finding that the petition presented substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that listing the Shasta salamander as endangered or threatened may be warranted based on impacts to the species’ habitat and other natural or humanmade factors. CBD subsequently provided the Service with information supporting a taxonomic split of the Shasta salamander into three distinct species – Shasta, Samel, and Wintu. CBD requested the Service consider that information as part of the ongoing status review.

The Service identified habitat loss, degradation, and modification due to vegetation management and wildfire, and the increased temperature and reduced moisture from climate change as the main threats to the three salamander species. It also identified the additional threat of the proposed raising of the Shasta Dam’s height and resulting removal and inundation of habitat for the species. The Service evaluated existing conservation measures for the salamanders, including the fact that they are listed as threatened under the California Endangered Species Act, management efforts by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management for sensitive species, and protection through conservation measures and best management practices under the Northwest Forest Plan’s Survey and Manage program and Sensitive Species programs.

After examining both the threats to the species and existing conservation measures, the Service concluded that, while habitat loss from various threats within the range of the species have likely impacted individuals of each species, the magnitude and extent of those impacts have not impacted the species such that they are currently in danger of extinction throughout their range. The Service also found that potential future conditions did not indicate that any of the three species is likely to be in danger of extinction in the foreseeable future in a significant portion of its range.

While the Service concluded listing of the three salamander species was not warranted, it nevertheless requested that the public submit any new information relevant to the status of any of the three species or their habitat whenever it becomes available to help the Service monitor the species and make appropriate future decisions about their conservation and status.