Iconic Tiger Salamander finally gets protection
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By Jud Snyder  January 4, 2013 12:00 am

Another chapter in the self-perpetuating volume of the California Tiger Salamander’s relationships with Sonoma County land developers began last week when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it would come up with a plan by 2016 to protect its endangered status. The elusive amphibian has been on the endangered list for a decade.

It gained widespread attention in Cotati when Monahan Pacific Co. of San Rafael proposed a combination shopping center and residential units in land they owned on Gravenstein Highway at Redwood Drive and further west.

This had already been designated as habitat for the salamander, and its presence made it into an icon for environmentalists protesting the Monahan plan. The area also sheltered several rare plant species, but they could be easily dug up and moved to agricultural preserves west of Llano Road near Sebastopol.

What saved the salamanders dwelling in the Monahan acreage was the worldwide economic recession. Their proposal was tabled except for a cluster of condo apartments in the northwest corner. Meanwhile, Lowe’s Home Improvement built a large hardware and gardening supply outlet on the south side of Helman Lane and Redwood Drive, but the tiger salamander played only a minor role in the contentious debates (and a ballot vote) on this project.

The reason why is because it’s a rarely seen underground amphibian. The male only emerges to fertilize eggs laid by female salamanders in creeks, wetland

ponds and drainage ditches only on chilly, rainy nights in February and March, never in the daytime. Both Rohnert Park and Cotati sent out observers, mostly from public works crews, to see if they could spot male or female salamanders. The results were scanty – only a few were actually seen.

Sonoma County began its own campaign to save the tiger salamander. The Board of Supervisors formed a committee to provide a sensible method and RP City Councilman and former mayor Jake Mackenzie was a member.

“We (the committee) came up with a checkerboard pattern for the salamander area and sent it on,” said Mackenzie. “But it never was adopted or became any kind of law.”

The casino now under construction by the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria is included in the salamander zone.
“But I believe the Graton tribe’s Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) with the supervisors has a letter exempting the casino from any environmental regulation,” said Mackenzie.

The FIGR’s MOU with RP has mentioned plans for an open space and habitat preservation area south of the casino, west of Rancho Verde mobile home park and south to Laguna de Santa Rosa.

Part of the discussions involving the tiger salamander concerns the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) based in Tucson, Arizona, who have filed many lawsuits on behalf of environmental groups nationwide to protect endangered species, such as the gray wolf, and the tiger salamander.

The CBD included other portions of California where the tiger salamander is an endangered species. There are two areas, both located near the central California coast and near Santa Barbara.

Post Your Comments:
Marilee Montgomery
January 16, 2013
I've been interested in the CA tiger salamander long before the Graton Rancheria casino came to the area. There is one glaring error in the story above: the land west of the casino building site is not salamander habitat. It is a flood zone. Salamanders spend most of the year underground in what's called upland habitat, which in the case of the casino, is the construction site itself. That parcel is known to be salamander habitat. The EIS found a gravid female on the site, there were burrows on the site. Fish and Wildlife acknowledged that the construction activities would kill 100% of the salamanders that lived there. Graton Rancheria's mitigation for the salamander is off-site in so-called mitigation banks, and off-site mitigation doesn't help the animals that live on the construction site at all. The result is, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, a net loss for the salamander.
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