Salamander surveys trip up timber sale

Thursday, November 14, 2002

By ERIK ROBINSON, Columbian staff writer

Forest Service timber planners have withdrawn a proposed sale on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, after biologists raised concerns about the Larch Mountain salamander.

The hand-size salamander, brown with small whitish flecks, lives in the Cascade Mountains of southern Washington and northern Oregon. Biologists have discovered several of the creatures on the site of the proposed Laroux timber sale on the Mount Adams District on the southern edge of the national forest.

The Forest Service, which advertised an auction for the LaRoux timber sale on Nov. 26, yanked it due to ongoing concerns about the salamander.

"We discovered there was an issue about our salamander surveys," said Fred Dorn, timber sale planner for the Gifford Pinchot in Vancouver. "There's a portion of the adjacent area that may have to be deferred."

It's the latest in a series of setbacks for the Gifford Pinchot's long-dormant timber program, which restarted last month after a two-year hiatus. On Oct. 15, the forest sold 6.83 million board feet of timber in three sales the first sales made after two years in which the agency was tied up by litigation and procedural hurdles related to protecting fish and wildlife.

A previous auction, on Sept. 30, drew no bidders, due at least in part to a depressed timber market.

The Gifford Pinchot expected to offer another 2.7 million board feet in the Laroux timber sale south of the Big Lava Bed in the Lost Creek drainage near Willard. Now, however, the forest has withdrawn the sale and is deciding whether to delete all or parts of it in a future auction.

Biologists discovered several of the salamanders during surveys of the site, and state officials want those areas protected.

"There are less than 100 known Larch Mountain salamander sites in Washington, and many of these are found on private lands within the Columbia River Gorge," Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist William Weiler wrote in a letter to Mount Adams District Ranger Greg Cox in June of this year.

Weiler implied that federal lands offer the best chance for protecting the creature.

Larch Mountain salamanders live in shady, moss-covered talus slopes, according to the Burke Museum of Natural History in Seattle. Those areas may be scattered far from streamsides, the places where other salamanders live and where federal logging restrictions are already in effect.

Protecting Larch Mountain salamander habitat could put a serious crimp in any planned timber sale.

Outside federal scientists had previously expressed concern about the Gifford Pinchot's method of surveying for the salamander, which is listed as a sensitive species in both Washington and Oregon. In a February 1998 memo, Forest Service research ecologist Deanna Olson criticized the Gifford Pinchot's practice of surveying only 25 percent of sites where they believe the salamander is most likely to show up.

"Surveying 25 percent of low priority habitat leaves the remaining 75 percent of currently identified habitat unsurveyed," Olson wrote.

Where you look for salamanders becomes important, especially considering the restrictions the Forest Service recommends once they're discovered.

"Avoiding any ground-disturbing activity that would disrupt the talus layer where this species occurs is the primary means of protection," according to the agency's current written standard for the salamander. "Once sites are identified, maintain 40 percent canopy closure of trees within the site and within a buffer of at least the height of one site-potential tree or 100 feet horizontal distance, whichever is greater, surrounding the site."


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