A group of local endangered amphibians are waiting for the government to designate them a home.
In January 2000, the Fish and Wildlife Service declared the Santa Barbara County California tiger salamander (Ambystoma californiense) endangered. The organization had a one-year deadline to designate a critical habitat for the species.
“They said that a critical habitat would be beneficial to the species, but they still missed the deadline,” Karen Krauss, an attorney for the Environmental Defense Center, said.
In accordance with the Endangered Species Act, once a species has been declared endangered, FWS must declare the species’ habitat as critical to its survival. Declaration of an area as critical creates a series of checkpoints through which construction projects must pass in order to affect the endangered species as little as possible
The Environmental Defense Center and the Santa Barbara-based Center for Biological Diversity have filed a lawsuit against the FWS.
“They have not designated a critical habitat for the Santa Barbara County [California] tiger salamander for basically political reasons. The Bush administration has not designated a critical habitat for a single species except those that it has been forced to do so for by a court order,” Kassie Siegel, a representative of the Center for Biological Diversity, said.
“We have not designated a critical habitat because we’ve had a lot of other stuff to do, and it’s not a high priority. We receive a limited amount of funding,” Bridget Fahey, division chief of the FWS’s Santa Barbara Division, said.
Fahey also said that because no court order is propelling action regarding the salamander, designation of its habitat has not been a priority.
“Our top priorities are those that we have been given a court order for and things we’ve been given a court-ordered deadline for,” Fahey said.
Under the Bush administration, only 22 critical habitats have been designated, the fewest number of endangered species and critical habitat designations since the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973.
Although declaring an area of land as critical does not establish a land preserve, it does require federal agencies to consult with the FWS before building or developing the land.
The Santa Barbara County California tiger salamander can be distinguished from the California tiger salamander by its markings. Because the animal spends most of its life underground and only surfaces to breed, the exact number of the Santa Barbara County California tiger salamander has not been calculated. However, six metapopulations, or breeding colonies, exist throughout North County.