The County of Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors recently adopted a $1.4 million plan to help restore the local population of endangered salamanders and relieve land owners affected by laws meant to save the species.
The new plan, called the Regional Conservation Strategy, was approved at the board’s March 28 meeting and establishes a set of rules that will apply to all landowners who find the endangered California tiger salamander on their property. Northern Santa Barbara County is home to many breeding pools for the tiger salamander, which has been on the endangered species list since 2000, County Executive Officer Michael Brown said.
Brown said the new plan includes funding for studies of the biology of the California tiger salamander and how best to save the species from extinction. The plan calls for the creation of clearly defined legal guidelines for when the species is found on private property, and also includes provisions for the eventual creation of a 10,000-acre preserve for the species.
“The Regional Conservation Strategy would include development of a biological framework, species description, mitigation, implementation and funding,” Brown said. “Implementation of the plan would include long-term development of a [California tiger salamander] preserve area, as identified by the biological framework.”
Environmental Defense Center attorney Karen Krauss said the new plan also includes the creation of a committee to arbitrate disputes between landowners with salamanders on their property and those looking to protect the species. She said the plan is a move in the right direction, but she thinks the committee, which consists of developers, farmers, ranchers and an environmentalist, will be unbalanced.
“We definitely support the concept of bringing all the stakeholders together,” Krauss said. “But the makeup of the stakeholder team doesn’t make up the general public interest … and the plan needs to focus on the recovery of the tiger salamander, not just its survival.”
In a letter to the board of supervisors, Brown said he thinks the county’s old method of dealing with the California tiger salamander did not provide enough protection for the species and kept landowners from exercising their right to use their private property.
“This approach has provided less-than-satisfactory protection to the population of the [tiger salamander] in the county and less-than-satisfactory [protection of the] ability of landowners to use their property in an otherwise legal manner,” Brown said.
Third District Supervisor Brooks Firestone, who abstained from the board’s otherwise unanimous vote in favor of the plan, said he is not sure if the plan is worth its cost, or whether it has been adequately researched.
“They didn’t seem to have done all their homework,” Firestone said. “I didn’t think we should pass it because that’s a lot of money.”
Firestone said there are differing opinions about the severity of the threat to the species, and he said he is worried that if the county creates too many protections for the salamanders it might set a precedent that would be harmful for local landowners. Firestone said he is also worried that the county might be forced to create many similar plans for other endangered species throughout Santa Barbara.
“The ramifications are almost limitless,” Firestone said. “What would happen if [an endangered species] was found on UCSB campus?”
First District Supervisor and UCSB alumnus Salud Carbajal said he strongly supports the new plan and thinks the new method will provide more protection for the salamanders and make the process easier for landowners looking to build on property that contains the animals.
“This is a hybrid approach and I’m willing to take that approach as long as it yields what we all need,” Carbajal said.