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[caption id="attachment_28672" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="A California tiger salamander (John Clecker, USFWS, photo)"][/caption]

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service today released a revised proposal for the amount of central Sonoma County deemed critical habitat for the protected California tiger salamander, reducing the 74,223-acres area proposed in 2005 and 2009 by 31 percent.

The wildlife service cut 23,368 acres from the proposed habitat, excluding urban areas, most of the 100-year floodplain and places that don't have features the amphibians need at different stages of their life cycle, according to the announcement.

"The service is proposing this revision to align better with the Santa Rosa Plain Conservation Strategy," the agency said in a statement.

The agency is taking comments on the newly revised habitat through Feb. 17 and plans to complete responses to comments and economic analysis before the July 1 court-ordered deadline to issue a final rule on the habitat.

[caption id="attachment_28661" align="alignright" width="195" caption="The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service now is excluding urban areas and floodplain. (click to enlarge)"][/caption]

After a four-year private-public effort, construction and wine leaders together with local, state and federal officials completed the conservation strategy in December 2005. In conjunction with the approval of the strategy, the wildlife service suspended a final rule on habitat for two years to allow implementation. The goal was to create a framework in which the salamanders would be protected and allow private and public construction projects as well as farming operations could continue within specific parameters.

In 2007 when implementation had not been completed, the wildlife service adopted a biological opinion creating a framework for working with projects potentially involving salamander. Local governments tabled implementation of the strategy in June 2008 amid budget cuts. The wildlife service was sued to make a final rule and reached a settlement to do so by July 1, 2011.

The California tiger salamander is listed as endangered by the federal government and as threatened by the state. A critical habitat designation requires federal agencies to consult with the wildlife service before issuing project permits in a designated area that could affect a protected species or its habitat. An example are wetlands-related permits issued by the U.S. Corps of Engineers for public and private projects that involve moving dirt.

These salamanders spend most of their lives in burrows made by other animals up to about one mile from the ponds or vernal wetlands in which they hatched from eggs and lived as larvae during rainy winter months. None of the critters have been found in the 100-year floodplain in the Santa Rosa Plain, according to the wildlife service.

Comments may be submitted online at the Federal eRulemaking Portal (www.regulations.gov). Follow these instructions for submitting comments:

Refer to Docket No. FWS–R8–ES–2009–0044.

Comments may alternatively be submitted by mail or hand-delivered to:

Public Comments Processing

Attn: (FWS–R8–ES–2009–0044) Division of Policy and Directives Management

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222

Arlington, VA 22203

Faxes or email are not accepted.

Previous comments on this proposal will be considered for the final rule.

Check for submitted comments on the Federal eRulemaking Portal.

This U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service video describes critical California tiger salamander habitat.