Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A federal plan for preserving the endangered California tiger salamander and three wildflower species calls for the purchase of 15,000 acres of land in the Santa Rosa Plain for an estimated $385 million over the next 50 years.
The 144-page plan from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is not legally binding on any public or private landowners, but serves as a road map for recovery of the black-and-yellow amphibian that has frustrated Sonoma County builders and piled millions of dollars onto the cost of major developments, like the expansion of runways at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport.
But biologists are committed to saving the seldom-seen salamanders that have lost more than 80 percent of their habitat, primarily because of urban growth that has intensified over the past 20 years, according to the federal blueprint.
“With a recovery plan we can fight threats like habitat destruction that have pushed these salamanders to the brink of extinction,” said Jenny Loda, a biologist and attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, the conservation group whose lawsuit in 2012 prompted work on the plan released Monday by the federal wildlife agency.
The federal document aims to bolster three endangered flowering plants — Sonoma sunshine, Burke’s goldfields and Sebastopol meadowfoam — that grow only in seasonal wetlands.
The size of the salamander population is difficult to estimate, given the animal’s reclusive habits, but its historic range in Sonoma County of about 100,000 acres has been pared to about 20,000 acres of “fragmented habitat,” the plan said.
Tiger salamanders inhabit the Santa Rosa Plain, a narrow band of land from Cotati to Windsor, with a concentration of the amphibians between southwest Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park.
“They are in trouble,” said Josh Hull, a recovery division chief for Fish and Wildlife. The species’ endangered classification means they are “likely to become extinct in the foreseeable future.”