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Groups seek protection for rare mountain salamander

Conservation groups Monday petitioned the government to list the rare Siskiyou Mountains salamander under the federal Endangered Species Act, claiming federal land managers' apparent reneging on old "look before you log" provisions in potential future logging sales imperil the rare forest amphibian.

However, the federal Bureau of Land Management maintains that its new resource plan guiding management of its Western Oregon lands still focuses on salamander protections at high-profile areas as it has for more than a decade.

Groups including the Ashland-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center formally asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the pockets of known populations of the salamander in Southern Oregon and Northern California as either threatened or endangered.

The Siskiyou Mountains salamander is a long-bodied, short-limbed terrestrial salamander found only in the Klamath-Siskiyou bioregion, with distinct segments in the Applegate River watershed and a portion of Siskiyou County.

The petitioners say it favors old-growth forest habitat, especially in areas with thick moss and a mature forest canopy that maintain a cool and moist micro-climate.

Since 2007, the BLM has been required to survey for rare species like the Siskiyou Mountains salamander and manage 110 high-priority sites for the benefits of salamanders and their habitats. This survey-and-management plan, was also known as the "look before you log" approach, generally includes logging buffers should sales move forward.

The BLM is starting to roll out its new resource management plan of 2016, and since then the BLM has looked at offering timber sales in buffers created for great gray owls, said George Sexton, KS-Wild's conservation director.

Conservation groups fear they will similarly do so with salamanders, and logging of old-growth timber stands in the Applegate watersherd threatens salamander survival, Sexton said.

"The BLM has never been a big fan of the survey and management program," Sexton said.

"We don't know how the BLM is going to roll this stuff out," he said. "We're pretty nervous."

The BLM's 2016 management plan contains language stating that the Siskiyou Mountains salamander will be managed in Southwest Oregon as well as in Siskiyou County consistent with the 2007 conservation agreement as long as it is in effect.

"The commitment with the new plan is we'd do as good or better than the old RMP (resource management plan)," BLM spokesman Cheyne Rossbach said.

Conservation groups originally filed for Endangered Species Act protection for the salamander in 2004. The 2007 conservation agreement, as well as old-growth forest protections under the Northwest Forest Plan, were cited by the Fish and Wildlife Service when it denied Endangered Species Act protection for the salamander.

Joining KS-Wild in the petition are the Center for Biological Diversity, Cascadia Wildlands and the Environmental Protection Information Center.

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

The Siskiyou Mountains salamander (Plethodon stormi). [Photo courtesy of KS Wild]