Santa Barbara Co. Residents Protest Salamander

Liberty Matters News Service


Santa Barbara, CA - More than 150 residents of Santa Barbara County jammed a U.S. Fish and Wildlife hearing to offer comments about reclassifying the California tiger salamander from endangered to threatened.

Many of those in attendance expressed anger and frustration over the strict rules that have stopped or delayed construction of needed facilities.

USF&W halted the construction of a new animal shelter days before it was scheduled to begin because they were worried the salamanders might be harmed.

A warehouse to store food for the FoodBank of Santa Barbara County cannot be built until the salamander issues are resolved.

Fourth District Supervisor Joni Gray said, “Tiger salamanders can survive drag strips, airplanes and chicken ranches. They can certainly survive some kind of development….” “You really didn’t give a damn about preservation of the species,” said rancher Fred Chamberlain.

“You want to control everyone’s land.” “You’re holding this community hostage,” said land-use consultant Laurie Tamura.

Many people were angry that Fish and Wildlife pushed the listing through in 2000 with very little public input and what Fifth District Supervisor, Joe Centeno, termed “questionable scientific data.”

Environmental Defense Center people argued the salamander should remain endangered, “that no scientific basis exists for the reclassification.”


Salamander Hearing Draws Crowd

By Janene Scully -- Staff Writer

8/1/03 An animal shelter and a warehouse to store food for the needy are among the latest projects affected by stringent rules to protect the California tiger salamander, according to speakers lobbying Thursday for an end to protection measures.

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service public hearing in Santa Maria gathered comments about plans to reclassify the Santa Barbara County tiger salamander as threatened rather than endangered.

More than 150 people attended the sessions -- council members, mayors, county supervisors, farmers, business people, developers and landowners along with one salamander. About 68 people testified.

Santa Barbara County's new animal shelter was just days away from kicking off construction when U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials quashed plans, citing salamander concerns, officials said.

Likewise, a warehouse for the FoodBank of Santa Barbara County also remains on hold. Both projects are located near the Santa Maria Public Airport golf course and industrial park, which has been stalled for years due to salamander issues.

Fourth District Supervisor Joni Gray grew up near the site and recalled that over the years it's been an air base, drag strip and chicken ranch.

"Tiger salamanders can survive drag strips, airplanes and chicken ranches," Gray said. "They can certainly survive some kind of development. It should be balanced and there should be sound science behind that."

A steady stream of speakers echoed similar messages, touting topics including private property rights, sound science, economic impacts and affordable housing.

"You really didn't give a damn about preservation of the species," Los Olivos rancher Fred Chamberlin said. "That's the problem. You want to control everyone's land."

"Even the author of the Endangered Species Act stated that it was never intended to take away farmers' and ranchers' rights to use their property as they see fit," said Richard Pata, a third-generation farmer from Lompoc.

"You're holding this community hostage," land-use consultant Laurie Tamura said.

Many expressed anger at the federal agency's actions in 2000, when it used emergency measures to list the county's salamander population as endangered.

"The listing occurred in 2000 without fanfare, with insufficient public hearing and what now seems like questionable scientific data," Fifth District Supervisor Joe Centeno said.

Under proposed salamander protection changes, "normal" ranching activities could continue, but a San Luis Obispo County cattleman said the proposed rule doesn't include adequate definitions.

"What exactly would be normal is somebody else's abnormal," said David Pereira from San Luis Obispo Cattlemen's Association.

While fewer in number, several speakers favored strict protection for the species.

Environmental Defense Center representatives argued that the salamander should remain an endangered species. Objecting to efforts to downgrade the critter to threatened, EDC officials contend no scientific basis exists for the reclassification.

"Fish and Wildlife Service should be devoting its scarce time and limited budget to helping species recover, not reversing protections for species," said Karen Kraus, EDC attorney. "The service has refused to devote any resources towards designating critical habitat, and it has yet to complete a recovery plan for the species, yet the agency is spending time and resources to reduce protections for the salamander."

Orcutt resident Kenneth Wolf argued that nature depends on balance and disrupting one aspect of nature ultimately impacts others.

"We're losing respect for the land," Wolf said.

Written comments will be accepted through Sept. 22 to Field Supervisor, Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office, 2493 Portola Road, Suite B, Ventura, CA 93003.

Staff writer Janene Scully can be reached by e-mail at


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