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Daily Rules, Proposed Rules, and Notices of the Federal Government

DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

[Docket No. FWS-R2-ES-2012-0063; 4500030114]

RIN 1018-AY24

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Proposed Endangered Status for the Jemez Mountains Salamander and Proposed Designation of Critical Habitat

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.
ACTION: Proposed rule.
SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), propose to list the Jemez Mountains salamander as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act); and propose to designate critical habitat for the species. In total, approximately 90,789 acres (36,741 hectares) are being proposed for designation as critical habitat in Los Alamos, Rio Arriba, and Sandoval Counties, New Mexico.
DATES: We will accept comments received or postmarked on or before November 13, 2012. Comments submitted electronically using the Federal eRulemaking Portal (seeADDRESSESsection, below) must be received by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on the closing date. We must receive requests for public hearings, in writing, at the address shown in theADDRESSESsection by October 29, 2012.
ADDRESSES: (1)Electronically:Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal:http://www.regulations.gov.In the Search box, enter FWS-R2-ES-2012-0063, which is the docket number for this rulemaking. You may submit a comment by clicking on "Comment Now!".

(2)By hard copy:Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R2-ES-2012-0063; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.

We request that you send comments only by the methods described above. We will post all comments onhttp://www.regulations.gov.This generally means that we will post any personal information you provide us (see the Public Comments section below for more information). The coordinates or plot points or both from which the maps are generated are included in the administrative record for this critical habitat designation and are available athttp://www.fws.gov/southwest/es/NewMexico/, http://www.regulations.govat Docket No. FWS-R2-ES-2012-0063, and at the New Mexico Ecological Services Field Office (seeFOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). Any additional supporting information that we may develop for this critical habitat designation will also be available at the above locations.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Under the Act, a species or subspecies may warrant protection through listing if it is an endangered or threatened species throughout all or a significant portion of its range. On September 9, 2010, we published a 12-month finding stating that listing the Jemez Mountains salamander (Plethodon neomexicanus) under the Act was warranted, but precluded by other listing priorities (75 FR 54822). In that document we explained that the species currently faces numerous threats of high magnitude, and, therefore, qualifies for listing. This rule reassesses all available information regarding status of and threats to the salamander.

Under the Act, a species may be determined to be an endangered or threatened species based on any of five factors: (1) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range; (2) overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; (3) disease or predation; (4) the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; and (5) other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence. We have determined that the Jemez Mountains salamander meets the definition of an endangered species due to three of these five factors.

Summary of the Major Provisions of the Regulatory Action in Question

This document consists of: (1) A proposed rule to list the Jemez Mountains salamander (Plethodon neomexicanus) as an endangered species; and (2) a proposed rule for designation of critical habitat for the Jemez Mountains salamander.

We will obtain opinions from knowledgeable individuals with scientific expertise to review our technical assumptions, analysis, adherence to regulations, and whether or not we had used the best available information. These peer reviewers will analyze our methods and conclusions and provide additional information, clarifications, and suggestions to improve the final listing and critical habitat rule. As a result, we will make a final determination as to whether the Jemez Mountains salamander is an endangered or threatened species, and designate critical habitat as appropriate, in the final rule. For this rule, we propose to list the Jemez Mountains salamander as an endangered species and propose to designate approximately 90,789 acres (36,741 hectares) of critical habitat in Los Alamos, Rio Arriba, and Sandoval Counties, New Mexico. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

This document consists of: (1) A proposed rule to list the Jemez Mountains salamander (salamander) as an endangered species; and (2) a proposed critical habitat designation for the salamander.

Information Requested

We intend that any final action resulting from this proposed rule will be based on the best scientific and commercial data available and be as accurate and as effective as possible. Therefore, we request comments or information from the public, other concerned governmental agencies, Native American tribes, the scientific community, industry, or any other interested parties concerning this proposed rule. We particularly seek comments concerning:

(1) Biological, commercial trade, or other relevant data concerning any threats (or lack thereof) to this species and regulations that may be addressing those threats.

(2) Additional information concerning the historical and current status, range, distribution, and population size of this species, including the locations of any additional populations of this species.

(3) Any information on the biological or ecological requirements of the species, and ongoing conservation measures for the species and its habitat.

(4) Current or planned activities in the geographic areas occupied by the species and possible impacts of these activities on this species.

(5) Any information on impacts to the species resulting from fire management practices, severe wildfire, forest composition and structure conversions,post-fire rehabilitation, other forest management practices (including salvage logging, building of roads and trails, and recreational use).

(6) The reasons why we should or should not designate habitat as “critical habitat” under section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531et seq.) including whether there are threats to the species from human activity, the degree of which can be expected to increase due to the designation, and whether that increase in threat outweighs the benefit of designation such that the designation of critical habitat may not be prudent.

(7) Specific information on:

(a) The amount and distribution of Jemez Mountains salamander habitat;

(b) What areas that are currently occupied and contain features essential to the conservation of the species that should be included in the designation and why;

(c) Special management considerations or protection that may be needed in critical habitat areas we are proposing, including managing for the potential effects of climate change; and

(d) What areas not occupied at the time of listing are essential for the conservation of the species and why.

(8) Land use designations and current or planned activities in the subject areas and their possible impacts on proposed critical habitat.

(9) Information on the projected and reasonably likely impacts of climate change on the Jemez Mountains salamander and proposed critical habitat.

(10) Any foreseeable economic, national security, or other relevant impacts of designating any area that may be included in the final designation; in particular, any impacts on small entities or families, and the benefits of including or excluding areas that exhibit these impacts.

(11) Whether any specific areas we are proposing for critical habitat designation should be considered for exclusion under section 4(b)(2) of the Act, and whether the benefits of potentially excluding any specific area outweigh the benefits of including that area under section 4(b)(2) of the Act.

(12) The appropriateness of the methodology used for delineating the proposed critical habitat (including any data that might help further refine these areas).

(13) The likelihood of adverse social reactions to the designation of critical habitat and how the consequences of such reactions, if likely to occur, would relate to the conservation and regulatory benefits of the proposed critical habitat designation.

(14) Whether we could improve or modify our approach to designating critical habitat in any way to provide for greater public participation and understanding, or to better accommodate public concerns and comments.

Please note that submissions merely stating support for or opposition to the action under consideration without providing supporting information, although noted, will not be considered in making a determination, as section 4(b)(1)(A) of the Act directs that determinations as to whether any species is a threatened or endangered species must be made “solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available.”

You may submit your comments and materials concerning this proposed rule by one of the methods listed in theADDRESSESsection. We request that you send comments only by the methods described in theADDRESSESsection.

If you submit information viahttp://www.regulations.gov, your entire submission—including any personal identifying information—will be posted on the Web site. If your submission is made via a hardcopy that includes personal identifying information, you may request at the top of your document that we withhold this information from public review. However, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so. We will post all hardcopy submissions onhttp://www.regulations.gov.Please include sufficient information with your comments to allow us to verify any scientific or commercial information you include.

Comments and materials we receive, as well as supporting documentation we used in preparing this proposed rule, will be available for public inspection onhttp://www.regulations.gov, or by appointment, during normal business hours, at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, New Mexico Ecological Services Field Office (seeFOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).

Previous Federal Actions

In December 1982, we published a notice of review classifying the salamander as a Category 2 species (47 FR 58454, December 30, 1982). Category 2 status included those taxa for which information in the Service's possession indicated that a proposed listing rule was possibly appropriate, but for which sufficient data on biological vulnerability and threats were not available to support a proposed rule.

On February 21, 1990, we received a petition to list the Jemez Mountains salamander as threatened. Subsequently, we published a substantial 90-day finding, indicating that the petition contained sufficient information to suggest that listing may be warranted (55 FR 38342; September 18, 1990). In the Candidate Notice of Review (CNOR) published on November 21, 1991, we announced the salamander as a Category 1 species with a “declining” status (56 FR 58814). Category 1 status included those species for which the Service had on file substantial information regarding the species' biological vulnerability and threat(s) to support proposals to list them as either an endangered or threatened species. The “declining” status indicated decreasing numbers, increasing threats, or both.

On May 30, 1991, the Service, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), and the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) signed a Memorandum of Agreement outlining actions to be taken to protect the salamander and its habitat on the Santa Fe National Forest lands, including the formation of a team of agency biologists to immediately implement the Memorandum of Agreement and to develop a management plan for the species. The management plan was to be incorporated into the Santa Fe National Forest Plan. On April 3, 1992, we published a 12-month finding that listing the salamander was not warranted because of the conservation measures and commitments within the Memorandum of Agreement (57 FR 11459). In the November 15, 1994, CNOR, we included the salamander as a Category 2 species, with a trend status of “improving” (59 FR 58982). A status of “improving” indicated those species known to be increasing in numbers or whose threats to their continued existence were lessening in the wild.

In the CNOR published on February 28, 1996, we announced a revised list of animal and plant taxa that were regarded as candidates for possible addition to the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants (61 FR 7596). The revised candidate list included only former Category 1 species. All former Category 2 species were dropped from the list in order to reduce confusion about the conservation status of those species, and to clarify that the Service no longer regarded them as candidates for listing. Because the Jemez Mountains salamander was a Category 2 species, it was no longer recognized as a candidate species as of the February 28, 1996, CNOR.

In January, 2000, the New Mexico Endemic Salamander Team (NMEST), a group of interagency biologists representing NMDGF, the Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the SantaFe National Forest, finalized a Cooperative Management Plan for the Jemez Mountains salamander on lands administered by the Santa Fe National Forest (Cooperative Management Plan), and the agencies signed an updated Conservation Agreement that superseded the Memorandum of Agreement. The stated purpose of the Conservation Agreement and the Cooperative Management Plan was to provide for the long-term conservation of salamanders by reducing or removing threats to the species and by proactively managing their habitat (NMEST 2000 Conservation Agreement, p. 1). In a Decision Notice and Finding of No Significant Impact for the Forest Plan Amendment for Managing Special Status Species Habitat, signed on December 8, 2004, the Cooperative Management Plan was incorporated into the Santa Fe National Forest Plan.

On October 15, 2008, we received a petition dated October 9, 2008, from WildEarth Guardians requesting that we list the Jemez Mountains salamander as either an endangered or threatened species under the Act, and designate critical habitat. On August 11, 2009, we published a 90-day finding that the petition presented substantial information that listing the salamander may be warranted and that initiated a status review of the species (74 FR 40132). On December 30, 2009, WildEarth Guardians filed suit against the Service for failure to issue a 12-month finding on the petition (WildEarth Guardiansv.Salazar, No. 09-1212 (D.N.M.)). Under a stipulated settlement agreement, we published a 12-month finding on September 9, 2010, that listing the salamander as either an endangered or threatened species was warranted but precluded by higher priority actions (75 FR 54822). This rule constitutes our proposal to list the Jemez Mountains salamander as an endangered species and our proposal to designate critical habitat.

Proposed Endangered Status for the Jemez Mountains Salamander Background Species Information

The salamander is uniformly dark brown above, with occasional fine gold to brassy coloring with stippling dorsally (on the back and sides) and is sooty gray ventrally (underside). The salamander is slender and elongate, and it possesses foot webbing and a reduced fifth toe. This salamander is a member of the family Plethodontidae, is strictly terrestrial, and does not use standing surface water for any life stage. Respiration occurs through the skin, which requires a moist microclimate for gas exchange.

Taxonomy and Species Description

The Jemez Mountains salamander was originally reported asSpelerpes multiplicatus(=Eurycea multiplicata) in 1913 (Degenhardtet al.1996, p. 27); however, it was described and recognized as a new and distinct species (Plethodon neomexicanus) in 1950 (Stebbins and Riemer, pp. 73-80). No subspecies are recognized.

The Jemez Mountains salamander is one of two species of plethodontid salamanders endemic (native and restricted to a particular region) to New Mexico: The Jemez Mountains salamander and the Sacramento Mountains salamander (Aneides hardii). Unlike most other North American plethodontid salamanders, these two species are geographically isolated from all other species ofPlethodonandAneides.

Distribution

The distribution of plethodontid salamanders in North America has been highly influenced by past changes in climate and associated Pleistocene glacial cycles. In the Jemez Mountains, the lack of glacial landforms indicates that alpine glaciers may not have developed here, but evidence from exposed rocky areas (felsenmeers) may reflect near-glacial conditions during the Wisconsin Glacial Episode (Allen 1989, p. 11). Conservatively, the salamander has likely occupied the Jemez Mountains for at least 10,000 years, but this could be as long as 1.2 million years, colonizing the area subsequent to volcanic eruption.

The salamander is restricted to the Jemez Mountains in northern New Mexico, in Los Alamos, Rio Arriba, and Sandoval Counties, around the rim of the collapsed caldera (large volcanic crater), with some occurrences on topographic features (e.g., resurgent domes) on the interior of the caldera. The majority of salamander habitat is located on federally managed lands, including the USFS, the National Park Service (Bandelier National Monument), Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP), and Los Alamos National Laboratory, with some habitat located on tribal land and private lands (NMEST 2000, p. 1). The VCNP is located west of Los Alamos, New Mexico, and is part of the National Forest System (owned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture), but run by a nine-member Board of Trustees: the Supervisor of Bandelier National Monument, the Supervisor of the Santa Fe National Forest, and seven other members with distinct areas of experience or activity appointed by the President of the United States (Valles Caldera Trust 2005, pp. 1-11). Prior to Federal ownership in 2000, the VCNP was privately held. The species predominantly occurs at an elevation between 7,200 and 9,500 feet (ft) (2,200 and 2,900 meters (m)) (Degenhardtet al.1996, p. 28), but has been found as low as 6,998 ft (2,133 m) (Ramotnik 1988, p. 78) and as high as 10,990 ft (3,350 m) (Ramotnik 1988, p. 84).

Movements, Home Range, and Dispersal

Ramotnik (1988, pp. 11-12) used implanted radioactive wires in polyethylene tubing to track 9 individual salamanders for durations between 2 days and 6 weeks, monitoring their movements every 1 to 3 days, and two salamanders were tracked every 2 hours throughout a 12-hour period. Ramotnik (1988, p. 27) reported individual distances salamanders moved between consecutive observations ranged from 0 to 108 ft (0 to 13 m) and that 73 percent of recorded movements were less than 3.3 ft (1 m). In 59 of 109 observations, salamanders did not move. When the zero-distance movements were excluded from analysis, the average distance salamanders moved was 7.8 ft (2.4 m), with the greatest movement of 43 ft (13 m) (Ramotnik 1988, p. 28). Ramotnik (1988, p. 32) also estimated the home range of six salamanders with these data and reports the average home range was 86 square feet (ft2) (8.0 square meters (m2); males had a larger home range (137 ft2(12.7 m2)) than females (78 ft2(7.2 m2)). The individuals that had larger home ranges (greater than 54 ft2(5.0 m2)) were often found returning to the same cover object; whereas individuals with home ranges less than 54 ft2(5 m2) rarely returned to the same spot (Ramotnik 1988, p. 32). While these data are limited because small sample size, they provide some information on the relatively small movements made by individuals and their relatively small home range.

In another well-studied terrestrial salamander, the red-backed salamander (Plethodon cinereus), there is conflicting evidence regarding its dispersal abilities. Some information suggests this salamander exhibits small movements, even across multiple years, consisting primarily of small home ranges and with little movement among cover objects. However, there is other evidence of moderate-distance homing ability, greater movement during colonization events, and an estimated range expansion of 262 ft (80 m) per year over the last 18,000 years (Cabeetal.2007, p. 54). Cabeet al.2007 (pp. 53-60) measured gene flow of red-backed salamanders across a continuous forested habitat as an indicator of the salamander's dispersal. They suggested that gene flow and dispersal frequency were normally low, indicating that red-backed salamanders generally do not move much, but under certain circumstances, they might disperse farther than normal. These unique conditions occur when the population density of red-backed salamanders is so high in a given area that the habitat is saturated with them, and there is a resultant reduction in breeding success, and other, less densely populated habitat is available (Cabeet al.2007, p. 53). The Jemez mountains salamander is likely similar to other terrestrial salamanders, where dispersal distance and frequency is generally low, but some individuals may make moderate dispersal movements into available habitat.

In the 12-month finding for the Jemez Mountains salamander (75 FR 54822; September 9, 2010), we divided known salamander distributional data into five units (Unit 1-Western; Unit 2-Northern; Unit 3-East-South-Eastern; Unit 4-Southern; and Unit 5-Central), to provide clarity in describing and analyzing the potential threats that may differ across the species' range. However, for this rule, we are no longer using these units as reference, because we did not want to cause confusion with the critical habitat units.

Habitat

The strictly terrestrial Jemez Mountains salamander predominantly inhabits mixed-conifer forest, consisting primarily of Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), blue spruce (Picea pungens), Engelman spruce (P. engelmannii), white fir (Abies concolor), limber pine (Pinus flexilis), Ponderosa pine (P. ponderosa), Rocky Mountain maple (Acer glabrum), and aspen (Populus tremuloides) (Degenhardtet al.1996, p. 28; Reagan 1967, p. 17). The species has occasionally been found in stands of pure Ponderosa pine and in spruce-fir and aspen stands, but these forest types have not been adequately surveyed. Predominant understory includes Rocky Mountain maple (Acer glabrum), New Mexico locust (Robinia neomexicana), oceanspray (Holodiscus sp.), and various shrubby oaks (Quercus spp.) (Degenhardtet al.1996, p. 28; Reagan 1967, p. 17). Salamanders are generally found in association with decaying coniferous logs, and in areas with abundant white fir, Ponderosa pine, and Douglas fir as the predominant tree species (Ramotnik 1988, p. 17; Reagan 1967, pp. 16-17). Salamanders use decaying coniferous logs (particularly Douglas fir logs) considerably more often than deciduous logs, likely due to the physical features (e.g., blocky pieces with cracks and spaces) that form as coniferous logs decay (Ramotnik 1988, p. 53). Still, the species may be found beneath some deciduous logs and excessively decayed coniferous logs, because these can provide aboveground habitat and cover (Ramotnik 1988, p. 53).

Biology

The Jemez Mountains salamander is strictly terrestrial, does not possess lungs, and does not use standing surface water for any life stage. Respiration occurs through the skin, which requires a moist microclimate for gas exchange. Substrate moisture through its effect on absorption and loss of water is probably the most important factor in the ecology of this terrestrial salamander, as it is in other strictly terrestrial salamander species (Heatwole and Lim 1961, p. 818). The Jemez Mountains salamander spends much of its life underground and can be found above ground when relative environmental conditions are warm and wet, which is typically from July through September; but occasional salamander observations have been made in May, June, and October. Relatively warm and wet environmental conditions suitable for salamander aboveground activity are likely influenced by snow infiltration and summer monsoon rains. When active above ground, the species is usually found under decaying logs, rocks, bark, moss mats, or inside decaying logs or stumps.

The salamander's subterranean habitat appears to be deep, fractured, subterranean rock in areas with high soil moisture (NMEST 2000, p. 2) where the geologic and moisture constraints likely limit the distribution of the species. Soil pH (acidity or alkalinity) may limit distribution as well. It is unknown whether the species forages or carries on any other activities below ground, although it is presumed that eggs are laid and hatch underground. Salamander prey from aboveground foraging is diverse in size and type, with ants (Hymenoptera, Formicidae), mites (Acari), and beetles (Coleoptera) being most important (most numerous, most voluminous, and most frequent) in the salamander's diet (Cummer 2005, p. 43). Cummer (2005, pp. 45-50) found that specialization on invertebrate species was unlikely, but there was likely a preferential selection of prey categories (ants, mites, and beetles).

The aboveground microhabitat (under or inside cover objects) temperature for 577 Jemez Mountains salamanders ranged from 43 to 63 degrees Fahrenheit (°F) (6.0 to 17.0 degrees Celsius (°C)), with an average of 54.9 °F (12.7 °C) (Williams 1972, p. 18). Significantly more salamanders were observed under logs where temperatures are closest to the average temperature (54.5 °F (12.5 °C)) than inside logs where temperatures deviated the most from the average temperature (55.9 °F (13.3 °C)) (Williams 1972, p. 19).

Sexual maturity is attained at 3 to 4 years in age for females and 3 years for males (Williams 1976, pp. 31, 35). Reproduction in the wild has not been observed; however, based on observed physiological changes, mating is believed to occur above ground between July and August (Williams 1976, pp. 31-36). Based on examination of 57 female salamanders in the wild and 1 clutch of eggs laid in a laboratory setting, Williams (1978, p. 475) concluded that females likely lay 7 or 8 eggs every other year or every third year. Eggs are thought to be laid subterranean the spring after mating occurs (Williams 1978, p. 475). Jemez Mountains salamanders have direct-developing eggs, whereby fully formed salamanders hatch from the eggs. The lifespan of the salamander in the wild is unknown. However, considering the estimated lifespan of other similar terrestrial plethodontid salamanders and the above reproductive information, we believe that the lifespan of this species is likely greater than 10 years.

Status of the Species

A complete overview of the available survey data and protocols for the Jemez Mountains salamander is reported in the 12-month finding for the salamander (75 FR 54822; September 9, 2010). In summary, we have approximately 20 years of salamander survey data that provide detection information at specific survey sites for given points in time. The overall rangewide population size of the Jemez Mountains salamander is unknown because surveys tend to be localized (approximately 200 m by 200 m areas (256 ft by 256 ft), and we cannot meaningfully relate these data to the demographics of the species. Additionally, like most plethodontid salamanders, monitoring population size or trends of the Jemez Mountains salamander is inherently difficult because of the natural variation associated with the species' behavior (Hyde and Simons 2001, p. 624). For example, when the species is underground, they cannot be detected. Therefore, the probability of detecting asalamander is highly variable and dependent upon the environmental and biological parameters that drive aboveground and belowground activities (Hyde and Simons 2001, p. 624). Given the known bias of detection probabilities and the inconsistent survey effort across years, population trends and population size estimates using existing data cannot be made accurately.

Despite our inability to quantify population size or trends for the salamander, these qualitative data (data that are observable, but not measurable) provide information for potential inferences. Based on these inferences, we believe that the persistence of the salamander may vary across the range of the species. For example, in some localities where the salamander was once considered abundant or common, the salamander is now rarely detected or has not been recently detected at all (New Mexico Heritage Program 2010a and b, spreadsheets). There also appears to be an increase in the number of areas where salamanders were once present, but have not been observed during more recent surveys (New Mexico Heritage Program 2010a and b, spreadsheets). Alternatively, there are two localities on the VCNP where the salamander continues to be relatively abundant, compared to most other recent detections (Redondo Border located in the central portion of the VCNP, and on a slope in the northeast portion of the VCNP). Still, the number of individuals found at these 2 localities is far less than other historical reports including the report in which 659 individuals were captured in a single year in 1970 and 394 of those individuals were captured in a single month (Williams 1976, p. 26). Currently, there is no known location where the number of salamanders observed is similar to that observed in 1970.

Overall, some of the localized survey areas appear to be unchanging (survey results with similar numbers of salamanders through time during the period in which environmental conditions for salamander aboveground activity is warm and wet, which is typically from July through September). However, in other areas, particularly along the western and southern sides of the range, the number of salamanders observed during surveys appears to be decreasing or the number of surveys resulting in no detections at all are increasing (fewer or no salamanders observed for the same survey effort, while environmental conditions for salamander aboveground activity is considered optimal) (New Mexico Heritage Program 2010a and b, spreadsheets). An assessment of population trends using these data would not be accurate, unless we could demonstrate that these limited data are representative of the overall population. We expect that detecting overall trends will be difficult for this species, given data limitations, the cost of comprehensive surveys, and the likelihood of natural, annual, and spatial variations.

In summary, the available data cannot be used to estimate population size or trends in the rangewide abundance of the salamander. Although we lack specific long-term population and trend information, available data and qualitative observations of salamanders suggest that the species is more difficult to find during surveys. Even though we are not able to estimate population trends, the number of surveys resulting in no salamander detections is increasing. Because we have limited data regarding the status of the species or population trends, we specifically request this information.

Summary of Factors Affecting the Species

Section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1533), and its implementing regulations at 50 CFR part 424, set forth the procedures for adding species to the Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. Under section 4(a)(1) of the Act, we may list a species based on any of the following five factors: (A) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range; (B) overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; (C) disease or predation; (D) the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; and (E) other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence. Listing actions may be warranted based on any of the above threat factors, singly or in combination. Each of these factors is discussed below.

A. The Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment of Its Habitat or Range

The principal threats to the habitat of the Jemez Mountains salamander include historical fire exclusion (the act of preventing fire) and suppression (the act of putting out fire) and severe wildland fires; forest composition and structure conversions; post-fire rehabilitation; forest and fire management; roads, trails, and habitat fragmentation; and recreation.

Fire Exclusion, Suppression, and Severe Wildland Fires

In the Jemez Mountains, over 100 years of fire suppression and fire exclusion (along with livestock grazing and other stressors) have altered forest composition and structure, and increased the threat of wildfire in Ponderosa pine and mixed-conifer forests (Belsky and Blumenthal 1997, p. 318). Fire has been an important process in the Jemez Mountains for at least several thousand years (Allen 1989, p. 69), indicating that the salamander coexisted with historical fire regimes. Frequent, low-intensity surface fires and patchy, small-scale, high-intensity fires in the Jemez Mountains historically maintained salamander habitat. These fires spread widely through grassy understory fuels, or erupted on very small scales. The natural fire intervals prior to the 1900s ranged from 5 to 25 years across the Jemez Mountains (Allen 2001, p. 4). Dry mixed-conifer forests burned on average every 12 years, whereas wet mixed-conifer forests burned on average every 20 years. Historically, patchy surface fires within mixed-conifer forests would have thinned stands and created natural fuel breaks that would limit the extent of fires. Still, in very dry years, there is evidence of historical fires occurring across entire watersheds, but they did not burn with high severity over entire mountain sides (Jemez Mountains Adaptive Planning Workshop Session II Final Notes 2010, p. 7). Aspen stands are evidence of historical patchy crown fires that represent the relatively small-scale, stand-replacing fires that have historically occurred in the Jemez Mountains, which are also associated with significantly dry years (Margoliset al.2007, p. 2236).

These historical fire patterns were interrupted in the late 1800s through the elimination of fine fuels, as a result of livestock overgrazing and historical managed fire suppression. This interruption and exclusion of fire promoted the development of high forest stand densities with heavy accumulations of dead and downed fuel, and growth of ladder fuels (the dense mid-story trees that favor development of crown fires) (Allen 2001, pp. 5-6). In fact, past fire exclusion activities in this area converted historically low- to moderate-severity fire regimes with small, patchy fires to high-severity, large-scale, stand-replacing fires that have the potential to significantly destroy or degrade salamander habitat (USFS 2009a, pp. 8-9). The disruption of the natural cycle of fire and subsequent accumulation ofcontinuous fuels within the coniferous forests on south- and north-facing slopes has increased the chances of a severe wildfire affecting large areas of salamander habitat within the Jemez Mountains (e.g., see USFS 2009a, 2009b).

In recent years, prescribed fire at VCNP has been limited, with only one burn in 2004 that was described as creating a positive vegetation response (ENTRIX 2009, p. 97). A prescribed fire plan is expected to be developed (ENTRIX 2009, p. 97), because there is concern for severe wildland fires to occur (Parmenter 2009, cited in Service 2010). The planned Scooter Peak prescribed burn between the VCNP and Bandelier National Monument is a fuel-reduction project in occupied salamander habitat, but is small in scale (approximately 960 acres (ac) (390 hectares (ha)) (ENTRIX 2009, p. 2). Although future thinning of secondary growth may partially reduce the risk of severe wildland fires in areas, these efforts are not likely at a sufficient geographical scale to lessen the overall threat to the salamander.

The frequency of large-scale, high-severity, stand-replacing wildland fires has increased in the latter part of the 20th century in the Jemez Mountains. This increase is due to landscape-wide buildup of woody fuels associated with removal of grassy fuels from extreme year-round livestock overgrazing in the late 1800s, and subsequent fire suppression (Allen 1989, pp. 94-97; 2001, pp. 5-6). The majority of wildfires over the past 20 years have exhibited crown fire behavior and burned in the direction of the prevailing south or southwest winds (USFS 2009a, p. 17). The first severe wildland fire in the Jemez Mountains was the La Mesa Fire in 1977, burning 15,400 ac (6,250 ha). Subsequent fires included the Buchanon Fire in 1993 (11,543 ac (4,671 ha)), the Dome Fire in 1996 (16,516 ac (6,684 ha)), the Oso Fire in 1997 (6,508 ac (2,634 ha)), the Cerro Grande Fire in 2000 (42,970 ac (17,390 ha)), and the Lakes Fire Complex (Lakes and BMG Fires) in 2002 (4,026 ac (1,629 ha)) (Cummer 2005, pp. 3-4). Between 1995 and 2010, severe wildland fires have burned about 36 percent of modeled or known salamander habitat on USFS lands (USFS 2009, p. 1). Following the Cerro Grande Fire, the General Accounting Office reported that these conditions are common in much of the western part of the United States turning areas into a “virtual tinderbox” (General Accounting Office 2000, p. 15).

In 2011, the Las Conchas Fire burned 150,590 ac (60,942 ha) in the Jemez Mountains, and, until the 2012 Whitewater Complex Fire in southwestern New Mexico, Las Conchas was New Mexico's largest wildfire to date (USFS 2011a, p. 1). The Las Conchas Fire burned approximately 17,780 ac (7,195 ha) of modeled or known salamander habitat in the east, south, and southeastern part of its range. This demonstrates that the threat of severe wildland fires to salamander habitat remains high, due to tons of dead and down fuel, overcrowded tree conditions leading to poor forest health, and dense thickets of small-diameter trees. There is a 36 percent probability of having at least one large fire of 4,000 ac (over 1,600 ha) every year for the next 20 years in the southwest Jemez Mountains (USFS 2009a, p. 19). Moreover, the probability of exceeding this estimated threshold of 4,000 ac (1,600 ha) burned in the same time period is 65 percent (USFS 2009a, p. 19). As an example of the severe fire risk, the Thompson Ridge-San Antonio area in the western portion of the salamander's range has extensive ladder fuels and surface fuels estimated at over 20 tons per acre, and the understory in areas contains over 800 dense sapling trees per acre within the mixed-conifer and Ponderosa pine stands (USFS 2009a, pp. 24-25). The canyon topography aligns with south winds and steep slopes, making this area highly susceptible to crown fire (USFS 2009a, pp. 24-25). Moreover, we found that the risk of burning is not eliminated following severe wildfires. Some areas that previously burned during the 2000 Cerro Grande Fire burned again during the 2011 Las Conchas Fire.

Increases in soil and microhabitat temperatures, which generally increase with increasing burn severity, can have profound effects on salamander behavior and physiology and can, therefore, influence their ability to persist subsequent to severe wildland fires. Following the Cerro Grande Fire, soil temperatures were recorded under potential salamander cover objects in geographic areas occupied by the salamander (Cummer and Painter 2007, pp. 26-37). Soil temperatures in areas of high-severity burn exceeded the salamander's thermal tolerance (the temperature that causes death) (Spotila 1972, p. 97; Cummer and Painter 2007, pp. 28-31). Because widespread dry conditions are an important factor contributing to the occurrence of severe wildfire, when severe wildfire occurs, most salamanders are likely protected in subterranean habitat and are not killed directly from wildfire. However, even in moderate and high-severity burned areas where fires did not result in the death of salamanders, the microhabitat conditions, such as those resulting from the Cerro Grande Wildfire, would limit the timing and duration that the salamanders could be active above ground (feeding and mating). Moreover, elevated temperatures lead to increases in oxygen consumption, heart rate, and metabolic rate, resulting in decreased body water (the percentage of water in the body) and body mass (Whitford 1968, pp. 247-251). Physiological stress from elevated temperatures may also increase susceptibility to disease and parasites. Effects from temperature increases are discussed in greater detail under Factor E, below.

Severe wildland fires typically increase soil pH, which could affect the salamander. In one study of the Jemez Mountains salamander, soil pH was the single best indicator of relative abundance of salamanders at a site (Ramotnik 1988, pp. 24-25). Sites with salamanders had a soil pH of 6.6 (± 0.08) and sites without salamanders had a soil pH of 6.2 (± 0.06). In another species of a terrestrial plethodontid salamander, the red-backed salamander (Plethodon cinereus), soil pH influences and limits its distribution and occurrence as well as its oxygen consumption rates and growth rates (Wyman and Hawksley-Lescault 1987, p. 1823). Similarly, Frisbie and Wyman (1991, p. 1050) found the disruption of sodium balance by acidic conditions in three species of terrestrial salamanders. A low pH substrate can also reduce body sodium, body water levels, and body mass (Frisbie and Wyman 1991, p. 1050). Changes in soil pH following wildfire could impact the salamander, either by making the habitat less suitable, or through physiological stress.

Including the Santa Fe National Forest, the existing risk of wildfire on the VCNP and surrounding areas is uncharacteristically high and is a significant departure from historical conditions over 100 years ago (VCNP 2010, p. 3.1; Allen 1989, pp. ii-346; 2001, pp. 1-10). Several regulatory attempts have been made to address and correct the altered ecological balance of New Mexico's forests resulting from a century of fire suppression, logging, and livestock grazing. Congress enacted the Community Forest Restoration Act to promote healthy watersheds and reduce the threat of large, high-intensity wildfires; insect infestation; and disease in the forests in New Mexico (H.R. 2389, Public Law 106-393). The subsequent Omnibus Public Land Management Act, also called the “Forest Landscape Restoration Act” (Title, IV, Public Law III-II, 2009), established a national program that encourages ecological,economic, and social sustainability and utilization of forest restoration byproducts to benefit local rural economies and improve forest health. As a result, the Santa Fe National Forest and partners prepared the Southwest Jemez Mountains Landscape Assessment designed to reduce the threat of severe wildland fire in the western and southern part of the salamander's range over the next 10 years (USFS 2009, p. 2).

In 2011, this Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration project was selected and is eligible for up to $4 million per year to restore approximately 210,000 ac (85,000 ha) of forest in the southwestern Jemez Mountains (USFS 2011b, pp. 1-2), but a lack of matching funds may limit the geographical extent of this project. Moreover, this project will not effectively address the short-term risk of severe wildland fire to the species because treatments are anticipated to be implemented slowly, over a decade or more, and will likely not begin in salamander habitat until at least 2013. Finally, it is unknown whether the proposed treatments will effectively reduce the risk of severe wildfire to the salamander or its habitat without causing additional harm to the species, because measures to minimize impacts will be experimental and have not yet been developed. We believe that this risk of wildfire is one of the most significant threats facing this species, and projects attempting to reduce the threat of wildland fire will need to be implemented over a large part of the landscape before significant risk reduction for the salamander is achieved. For these reasons, we conclude that the overall risk of severe wildland fire will not be significantly reduced or eliminated on USFS lands, National Park Service lands, the VCNP, or surrounding lands in the future.

Since 1977, these severe wildland fires have significantly degraded important features of salamander habitat, including removal of tree canopy and shading, increases of soil temperature, decreases of soil moisture, increased pH, loss or reduction of soil organic matter, reduced soil porosity, and short-term creation of hydrophobic (water-repelling) soils. These and other effects limit the amount of available aboveground habitat, and the timing and duration when salamanders can be active above ground, which negatively impacts salamander behavior (e.g., maintenance of water balance, foraging, and mating) and physiology (e.g., increased dehydration, heart rate and oxygen consumption, and increased energy demands). These negative impacts are greater for hatchlings and juvenile salamanders because, relative to their body mass size, they have a greater skin surface area than larger salamanders, and thus have greater rates of water and gas exchange over their skin surface. Survivorship of hatchlings and juveniles is likely reduced from the effects of extensive stand-replacing wildland fires.

For these reasons, severe wildland fires have led to a reduction in the quality and quantity of the available salamander habitat rangewide, reducing the survivorship and fecundity of the salamander rangewide. The USFS concludes, and we concur, that habitat loss from extensive, stand-replacing wildland fire is a threat to the salamander (USFS 2009c, p. 1), and these effects will likely continue into the future, because areas that have not burned in the past 15 years are still at extremely high risk, and areas that have experienced severe wildfires in the last 15 years have degraded habitat that continues to adversely affect the salamander. We consider the reduction in the quality and quantity of habitat from extensive stand-replacing wildland fire to be a significant threat to the species, because this threat is rangewide and affects salamander behavior, physiology, and reproductive success. Therefore, we believe that severe wildland fire has substantially impacted the salamander and its habitat, and this trend is expected to continue throughout its range in the future, unless and until projects attempting to reduce the threat of wildland fire are effectively implemented over a large part of the landscape in the Jemez Mountains which includes the habitat of the salamander.

Forest Composition and Structure Conversions

Changes in forest composition and structure may exacerbate severe wildland fires and are, therefore, considered a threat to the salamander. In addition, changes in forest composition and structure may threaten the salamander by directly altering soil moisture, soil temperature, soil pH, relative humidity, and air temperature. While it is possible that increased canopy could provide additional shading, and thus lower air and soil temperatures, and reduce soil moisture loss, it is presumed that any minor gains from a slightly more closed canopy would be lost as a result of the increase in demand for water that would be required for evapotranspiration by an increased number of small-diameter trees, which in turn would lead to increased drying of the soil. Limited water leads to drought-stress in trees, and an increase in susceptibility of trees to burning, insect infestations, and disease. This is especially true on south-facing slopes, where less moisture is available or during times of earlier snowmelt. Reduced soil moisture may also influence soil temperature and relative humidity.

Reduced soil moisture disrupts other aboveground activities of salamanders (e.g., foraging and mating), because salamanders must first address moisture needs above all other life functions (Heatwole and Lim 196, p. 818). Additionally, ecological changes resulting from forest composition changes could result in altered prey availability; however, we do not know if such changes would affect the salamander. The type and quantity of vegetation affects soil pH, and thus could also affect the salamander. Overall, the degree of cascading ecological impacts from shifts in forest composition and structure is currently unknown; however, alteration of forest composition and structure contribute to increased risk of forest die-offs from disease and insect infestation throughout the range of the salamander (USFS 2002, pp. 11-13; 2009d, p. 1; 2009a, pp. 8-9; 2010, pp. 1-11; Allen 2001, p. 6). We find that the interrelated contributions from changes in vegetation to large-scale, high-severity wildfire and forest die-offs are of a significant magnitude across the range of the species (e.g., see “Fire Exclusion, Suppression, and Severe Wildland Fires” section, above), and, in addition to continued predicted future changes to forested habitat within the range of the species, are threats to the salamander.

Preliminary data collected from the VCNP indicates that an increase in the amount of tree canopy cover in an area can decrease the amount of snow that is able to reach the ground, and can ultimately decrease the amount of soil moisture and infiltration (Enquistet al.2009, p. 8). On the VCNP, 95 percent of coniferous forests have thick canopy cover with heavy understory fuels (VCNP 2010, pp. 3.3-3.4; USFS 2009a, p. 9). In these areas, snow accumulates in the tree canopy over winter, and in the spring can quickly evaporate without reaching or infiltrating the soil. Relatively recent increases in canopy cover, resulting from changes in forest composition and structure caused by historical management and fire suppression, could be having significant drying effects on salamander habitat. In summary, existing and ongoing changes in forest composition and structure are interrelated to the threat of severe wildland fire and may also directlyaffect habitat suitability by altering soil moisture, soil temperature, soil pH, relative humidity, and air temperature. Therefore, forest composition and structure conversions resulting in increased canopy cover and denser understory pose threats to the salamander now and are likely to continue in the future.

Post-fire Rehabilitation

Post-fire management practices are often needed to restore forest dynamics (Beschtaet al.2004, p. 957). In 1971, USFS was given formal authority by Congress for Burn Area Emergency Rehabilitation (BAER) (Robichaudet al.2000, p. 1) and integrated the evaluation of fire severity, funding request procedures, and treatment options. Treatment options implemented by USFS and BAER teams include hillslope treatments (grass seeding, contour-felled logs, mulch, and other methods to reduce surface runoff and keep post-fire soil in place, such as tilling, temporary fencing, erosion control fabric, straw wattles, lopping, and scattering of slash) and channel treatments (straw bale check dams, log check dams, rock dams, and rock cage dams (gabions)) (Robichaudet al.2000, pp. 11-21). Rehabilitation actions following the Cerro Grande fire in salamander habitat included heavy equipment and bulldozer operation, felling trees for safety reasons, mulching with straw and placement of straw bales, cutting and trenching trees (contour felling and securing on slope), hand and aerial seeding, and aerial hydromulch (wet mulch with fertilizer and seed) (USFS 2001, p. 1). Rehabilitation actions following the Las Conchas Fire included road protections (removal of culverts, installation of trash racks and drainage dips); hand and aerial seeding; mulching; and removal of trees at ancestral communities (USFS 2011a, pp. 7-9; USFS 2012, pp. 1-3).

In many cases, rehabilitation actions can have further detrimental impacts on the Jemez Mountains salamander and its habitat beyond what was caused by the fire, but the USFS has made efforts to minimize such impacts (USFS 2012, pp. 1-3). For instance, following the Las Conchas Fire, rehabilitation actions in the Jemez Mountains salamander's habitat that is categorized as “Essential” according to the Jemez Mountains Salamander Management Plan or categorized as an “Occupied Stand” by the USFS were limited to small scales and included: an estimated 4.3 ac (1.7 ha) of habitat being impacted for road protections, 7.5 ac (3.0 ha) were seeded and mulched (for archeological site protection and Nordic ski trail protection), 150 ac (60.7) were disturbed for hazard tree removal (cutting trees that could be dangerous by falling onto a roadway), and 3.25 ac (1.3 ha) of bulldozer line was rehabilitated with slash placement or seeding (USFS 2011a, pp. 7-9; USFS 2012, pp. 1-3).

Some post-fire rehabilitation actions may be beneficial for the salamander. For example, contour felling can slow erosion and, in cases where aboveground rocks are not present or present in low numbers, the felled logs can also provide immediate aboveground cover. Following the Cerro Grande Fire, the BAER Team recommended felling large-diameter Douglas fir logs and cutting four disks off each log (rounds) to provide immediate cover for salamanders before summer rains (Interagency BAER Team 2000, p. 87; USFS 2001, p. 1). Similar recommendations were made after the Las Conchas Fire (BAER Survey Survey Specialist Report, 2011, p. 3). We believe these actions would benefit the salamander immediately post-fire, but these actions have not been implemented and still need to be tested. Still, some post-fire treatments (e.g., grass seeding, heavy equipment operation, bulldozing, tilling, hydromulching, mulching, erosion control fabrics, and removal of aboveground rocks to build rock dams) likely negatively impacted the salamander.

The most common BAER treatment has been grass seeding dropped from aircraft (Robichaudet al.2000, p. 11; Peppinet al.2010, p. 574). Nonnative grasses have typically been seeded because they are fast-growing and have extensive fibrous roots (Robichaudet al.2000, p. 11); however, in more recent years, efforts have been made to use native plant species, but their use is often limited by high cost and inadequate availability (Peppinet al.2010, p. 574). Overall, seeding with grass is relatively inexpensive, and has been reported to rapidly increase water infiltration and stabilize soil (Robichaudet al.2000, p. 11). However, Peppinet al.(2010, p. 573) concluded that post-wildfire seeding in western U.S. forests does little to protect soil in the short-term, has equivocal effect on invasion of nonnative species, and can have negative effects on native vegetation recovery. Nevertheless, nonnative grasses from post-fire rehabilitation efforts have created thick mats that are impenetrable to the salamander, because the species has short legs and cannot dig tunnels. The existing spaces in the soil fill with extensive roots, altering the subterranean habitat in a manner that is unusable to the salamander. We are aware of areas that burned with moderate and high severities in the Dome Fire (eastern and southeastern part of its range), where these thick mats of grass resulting from rehabilitation still persist, and salamanders are no longer found there. It is possible that native grasses could have the same effect, because the goal of the rehabilitation effort is to stabilize the soil with quick-growing fibrous roots.

Additionally, grass seed mixtures can also contain fertilizer that is broadcast over large areas of habitat (e.g., hydromulch used in post-fire treatments for the Cerro Grande Fire). Fertilizers can contain nitrate, which is toxic to amphibians at certain levels (Rouseet al.1999, p. 799). Finally, how mulching with straw post-fire affects the salamander remains unknown, but could have significant adverse effects if there is widespread use and the mulch creates an impenetrable layer or alters the microecology in the upper layers of the soil and at the soil's surface. While the effects to salamanders from seeding with nonnative grasses, use of fertilizers, or mulch application have not been specifically studied, these actions, alone or in combination, have likely caused widespread adverse impacts to the salamander. To reduce adverse effects to the salamander resulting from post-fire rehabilitation efforts following the Las Conchas Fire, efforts were made to avoid seeding in most salamander areas (USFS 2011c, p. 9), and avoiding salamander habitat was a specific criterion for grass seeding and mulching actions (USFS 2012, p. 3). Because many common post-fire treatment actions have the potential to have significant, widespread adverse effects, we anticipate habitat alterations from wildfire and post-fire rehabilitation will continue to be a threat to the salamander localities from both past and future treatments.

In summary, some post-fire treatments, such as contour felling of logs and cutting and scattering rounds, may reduce some of the short-term effects of fire to the salamander and its habitat. However, most post-fire treatments negatively impact the salamander and its habitat in the long-term. Small-scale impacts could occur from removing rocks from habitat to build rock dams, and large-scale impacts include grass seeding and associated chemicals, and possibly mulching. We conclude that while the effects of high-severity, stand-replacing wildfire are the most significant threat to the salamander and its habitat, actions taken following wildfires are also a threat to the salamander's habitat,and are expected to continue in the future.

Fire Use

Fire use includes the combination of wildland fire use (the management of naturally ignited wildland fires to accomplish specific resource management objectives) and prescribed fire (any fire ignited by management actions to meet specific objectives) applications to meet natural resource objectives (USFS 2010b, p. 1). Fire use can benefit the salamander in the long term by reducing the risk of severe wildland fires and by returning the natural fire cycle to the ecosystem. Alternatively, other practices, such as broadcast burning (i.e., conducting prescribed fires over large areas), consume ground litter that helps to create moist conditions and stabilize soil and rocky slopes. Depending on time of year, fire use can also negatively impact the salamander when the species is active above ground (typically from July to September). However, the wet conditions required for salamander aboveground activity are often not conducive to fire. Prescribed fire in the Jemez Mountains is often planned for the fall (when the salamanders are not active above ground), because low wind and increased moisture during this time allow more control, lowering chances of the fire's escape. Because fire historically occurred prior to July (i.e., premonsoon rains), the majority of fires likely preceded the salamander's aboveground activity. Prescribed fires conducted after September, when salamanders typically return to their subterranean retreats, would be similar to a natural fire regime in the spring, with low direct impacts because most salamanders are subterranean at that time. However, it is unknown what the indirect impacts of altering the time of year when fire is present on the landscape have on the salamander and its habitat.

Other activities related to fire use that may have negative impacts to the salamander and its habitat include digging fire lines, targeting the reduction of large decaying logs, and using flares and fire-retardant chemicals in salamander habitat. Some impacts or stressors to the salamander can be avoided through seasonal timing of prescribed burns and modifying objectives (e.g., leaving large-diameter logs and mixed canopy cover) and by modifying fire management techniques (e.g., not using flares or chemicals) in salamander habitat (Cummer 2005, pp. 2-7).

As part of the Southwest Jemez Restoration Project proposal, the Santa Fe National Forest has set specific goals pertaining to salamander habitat, including reduction of the risk of high-intensity wildfire in salamander habitat, and retention of a moisture regime that will sustain high-quality salamander habitat (USFS 2009a, p. 11). The Santa Fe National Forest intends to minimize impacts to salamander habitat and to work towards recovery of the salamander (USFS 2009, p. 4), but specific actions or recommendations to accomplish this goal have not yet been determined. If the salamander's needs are not considered, fire use could make its habitat less suitable (warmer; drier; fewer large, decaying logs), and kill or injure salamanders that are active above ground. Alternatively, the salamander's habitat may benefit if seasonal restrictions and maintaining key habitat features (e.g., large logs and sufficient canopy cover to maintain moist microhabitats) are part of managing fire.

Given the current condition of forest composition and structure, the risks of severe wildland fire on a large geographic scale will take a long-term planning strategy. Fire use is critical to the long-term protection of the salamander's habitat, although some practices are not beneficial to the species and may be a threat to the salamander.

Fire Suppression Activities

Similarly, fire suppression activities may both protect and negatively impact the salamander and its habitat. For example, fire suppression actions that occurred in salamander habitat during the Cerro Grande Fire included hand line construction and bulldozer line construction (digging fire breaks down to bare mineral soil), backfiring (burning off heavy ground cover before the main fire reached that fuel source), and fire retardant drops (USFS 2001, p. 1). Fire suppression actions in modeled salamander habitat on the Santa Fe National Forest following Las Conchas Fire included 1.2 miles (mi) (1.9 kilometers (km)) of bulldozer line, 0.6 mi (0.9 km) of hand line, 1.2 mi (1.9 km) of fire retardant drop, and 1.5 ac (0.6 ha) of areas cleared for three drop points and one Medivac area (USFS 2011d, pp. 1-2). Water dropping from helicopters is another fire suppression technique used in the Jemez Mountains, where water is collected from accessible streams, ponds, or stock tanks. By dropping surface water into terrestrial habitat, there is a significant increased risk of spreading aquatic pathogens into terrestrial habitats (seeC. Disease and Predation,below).

The impacts of fire retardants and firefighting foams to the salamander are discussed underE. Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting Its Continued Existence,below. Fire suppression actions, including the use of fire retardants, water dropping, backfiring, and fire line construction, likely impact the salamander's habitat; however, the effects of habitat impacts from fire suppression on the salamander remain unknown, and, based on the information available at this time, we determine that fire suppression actions do not appear to be a threat to the salamander's habitat. These activities improve the chances of quick fire suppression, and thus fires would be relatively smaller in scale and could have fewer impacts than a severe wildland fire. Therefore, we do not find that fire suppression activities are a threat to the salamander's habitat, nor do we expect them to become a threat in the future.

Mechanical Treatment of Hazardous Fuels

Mechanical treatment of hazardous fuels refers to the process of grinding or chipping vegetation (trees and shrubs) to meet forest management objectives. When these treatments are used, resprouting vegetation often grows back in a few years and subsequent treatment is needed. Mechanical treatment is a fuel-reduction technique that may be used alone or in combination with prescribed fire. Mechanical treatment may include the use of heavy equipment or manual equipment to cut vegetation (trees and shrubs) and to scrape slash and other debris into piles for burning or mastication. Mastication equipment uses a cutting head attached to an overhead boom to grind, chip, or crush wood into smaller pieces, and is able to treat vegetation on slopes up to 35 to 45 percent, while generally having little ground impact (soil compaction or disturbance). The debris is left on the ground where it decomposes and provides erosion protection, or it is burned after drying out.

Mechanical treatment of hazardous fuels, such as manual or machine thinning (chipping and mastication), may cause localized disturbances to the forest structure or alter ecological interactions at the soil surface that can impact the salamander and its habitat. For example, removal of overstory tree canopy or ground cover within salamander habitat may cause desiccation of soil or rocky substrates. Also, a layer of masticated material could change microhabitat conditions making it unsuitable for salamanders (e.g., altering fungal communities or physically making it difficult for salamanders to move through).Additionally, tree-felling or use of heavy equipment has the potential to disturb the substrate, resulting in destabilization of talus and compaction of soil, which may reduce subterranean interstices (spaces) used by salamanders as refuges or movement.

Activities that compact soil, alter ecological interactions at the soil surface, remove excessive canopy cover, or are conducted while salamanders are above-ground active would be detrimental to the salamander and its habitat. A masticator is one type of heavy machinery that can be used for mechanical treatment of fuels that could potentially compact the soil and leave debris altering the soil surface ecology. In one study at a different location, a masticator was operated on existing skid trails (temporary trails used to transport trees, logs, or other forest products) and did not increase soil compaction, because the machinery traveled on existing trails covered with masticated materials (wood chips, etc.), which more evenly distributed the weight of the machinery and reduced soil compaction (Moghaddas and Stephens 2008, p. 3104). However, studies in the Jemez Mountains and effects to soils there have not been conducted.

At this time, we do not have any specific information whether mechanical treatments, including mastication, negatively impact the salamander either through altering above ground habitat or soil compaction. We encourage research on these techniques if they are to be implemented in salamander habitat. If mechanical treatment and hazardous fuels activities are conducted in a manner that minimizes impacts to the salamander and its habitat, while reducing the risk of severe wildland fire, the salamander could ultimately ben