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Jemez Mountains salamander triggers environmentalist lawsuit

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By The Staff

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is being sued over a salamander found only in a small area of northern New Mexico.

The Jemez Mountains salamander is already classified as endangered by state wildlife managers. However, environmentalists contend the lungless animal needs protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.

WildEarth Guardians filed a lawsuit Wednesday to force the Fish and Wildlife Service to list the salamander and designate critical habitat. The action is part of a campaign to persuading the Obama administration to make endangered species a priority.

Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Tom Buckley said he had not seen the lawsuit, but he noted that the agency announced in August that biologists would study the salamander to determine if it warrants federal protection.

The small salamander lives much of its life underground and out of sight. It is one of three salamanders found in New Mexico.

WildEarth Guardians argues that the species is important because its health indicates changes in habitat that could ultimately impact other plants, animals and natural resources in the Jemez Mountains.

The group said threats to the salamander include logging, mining, use of forest roads and trails, climate change and wildfires.

According to the lawsuit, up to one quarter of the salamander's habitat has been damaged by severe fires since the late 1990s. The animal's total range is estimated between 400 and 484 square miles.

Aside from habitat loss, the Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledged in its initial finding that climate change may be a threat because scientists have predicted warmer and drier conditions for the Jemez Mountains.

See a related story here.