The apparent collapse last week of a seven-year effort driven by business and public leaders to protect the endangered tiger salamander without bringing the economy to a halt shows that if obstructionists and bureaucrats can stall long enough, they somehow win.

The officially designated salamander habitat runs along both sides of Highway 101 from Santa Rosa nearly to Petaluma. The good news is that thousands of volunteer hours resulted in some interim rules for a local strategy. The bad news is they are probably not immune from legal and other challenges.

In the end, it wasn’t lack of effort and good science that killed the effort, which began with the emergency listing of the salamander in 2001. It was financial. Today’s cash-strapped cities and the county concluded they did not have the dollars necessary to fund the required environmental studies.

Meanwhile, support for the local strategy was waning among federal officials under pressure from environmental groups. And it probably didn’t help with Washington officials that Sonoma County is one of the centers of the “impeach Bush” movement.

The real losers will be the business owners close to or within designated salamander habitat who suddenly find it more difficult to expand. That means fewer good jobs for those who need them. Or it will be the higher cost of entry-level housing because of the added time and investment required for mitigation.

Potentially the most vulnerable is agriculture, which could face expensive and prolonged permit processes for vineyard planting or crop conversions.

Leaders may yet find a way to keep the local effort alive. That would at least give economic concerns a fighting chance to be heard.

* * *

Nine exceptional leaders: The winners include one of health care’s leading voices, another who raised the community’s consciousness on volunteering, one who listened to the role models in her life, one who rode a bicycle for 10,000 miles in Central and South America, women who have started their own companies and those who have taken large ones through key transitions.

Collectively they have tried, failed and met obstacles straight on and gotten back up to fight another day.

They are the 2008 honorees for the Business Journal’s eighth annual Women in Business awards.

The nine recipients are, as in past years, exceptional leaders, innovators and visionaries in their professional and personal lives.

And for one night, a gala Thursday at the Sheraton Sonoma County in Petaluma, they shared the unique challenges they face and talents they bring as women to the workplace. Their profiles appear in a special section in today’s Business Journal.

•••

Brad Bollinger is editor in chief and associate publisher of the Business Journal. He can be reached at bbollinger@northbaybusinessjournal.com.