Rare Aquatic Amphibian Gets 420 River Miles of Critical Habitat

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today protected Black Warrior waterdog salamanders under the Endangered Species Act, with 420 river miles of protected “critical habitat.”

Black Warrior waterdog. Photo © Todd Pierson CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.

The rare salamanders, found only in one river basin in Alabama, are on the brink of extinction because of ongoing habitat destruction and water pollution from agricultural and industrial operations.

“It’s fantastic that Black Warrior waterdogs now have the Endangered Species Act protection that will give them the best hope for survival,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity.

“The Endangered Species Act has prevented the extinction of 99 percent of the plants and animals under its care. This law is the best tool available for saving imperiled species like the waterdog.”

The gilled, aquatic salamander, which can grow to nearly 10 inches in length, was first put on the candidate waiting list for federal protection in 1982. The Center petitioned for the salamander’s protection in 2004 and again in 2010. Today’s decision is the result of a Center legal victory listing 193 species as endangered and proposing protections for another four species.

“Aquatic salamanders like the Black Warrior waterdog are indicator species that reflect the health of the environment we all share,” Curry said.
“Protecting this special amphibian and its habitat will help protect water quality for both waterdogs and people.”

The Black Warrior waterdog spends virtually all of its life at the bottom of streams under submerged ledges, logs and rocks. It also exhibits paedomorphism, which means it retains juvenile features like feathery gills and a tail fin even after it matures into an adult. One of the most endangered amphibians in the country, the waterdog is in severe decline as a result of river sedimentation and pollution from mining and forestry, poultry farms, cattle feedlots and industrial and residential sewage effluent.

The streams protected as critical habitat are found in Blount, Cullman, Etowah, Fayette, Jefferson, Lawrence, Marshall, Tuscaloosa, Walker and Winston counties in Alabama. Critical habitat protection requires consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service for any federally funded or permitted project to make sure the activities do not harm the salamander or its habitat.