On November 29, 2018, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in federal court for failing to act on the CBD’s petition to the USFWS to protect the Shasta Salamander. The CBD alleges that the Shasta Salamander will be imperiled by the United States Bureau of Reclamation’s (Reclamation) plans to raise Shasta Dam because raising the dam will flood the salamander’s current habitat around Shasta Lake. Plans to raise Shasta Dam have been in the works for years, but this past spring the U.S. Congress allocated $20 million to the project and pre-construction began soon thereafter. Reclamation plans to award a construction contract in December 2019, with actual construction slated to begin in the spring of 2020. Reclamation plans to raise the dam 18.5 feet at a cost of $1.4 billion.
The CBD filed its petition to protect the Shasta Salamander in 2012. When a petition is filed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the USFWS reviews the petition and makes a preliminary determination as to whether listing the species as either threatened or endangered may be necessary. If the USFWS determines that there is sufficient evidence suggesting that the species may need to be listed, then the USFWS has one year to collect data and make a determination whether or not to list the species. A recent study determined that what was thought to be one salamander is actually three types of similar but genetically different salamanders. The CBD argues that the USFWS is unnecessarily delaying in making its determination as to whether listing may be necessary, and the fact that there are three salamanders makes protection even more important because there are far fewer of each genetically different group than what was once thought.
The USFWS has yet to make its preliminary determination, but may be required to do so if there is substantial information supporting a need to review the status of the species. If the USFWS determined that that the Shasta Salamanders ought to be listed under the ESA, Reclamation would not be allowed to take, i.e., kill or injure, the salamanders, or destroy or adversely modify its critical habitat while raising the dam, which, at a minimum, will increase the cost of the project. Although Reclamation has taken the initial steps towards raising Shasta Dam, there are still many hurdles to overcome, including a potential listing of the Shasta Salamander.
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