“The Hickory Nut Gorge green salamander is a species worthy of protection under the Endangered Species Act. The science is clear and this species needs immediate action to prevent extinction. We applaud the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for moving forward in response to our petition and will continue to advocate for conservation and recovery efforts to proceed as quickly as possible.” 

Ben Prater, Southeast Program Director, Defenders of Wildlife
Asheville, NC

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it would consider protecting the Hickory Nut Gorge green salamander under the Endangered Species Act. The agency now has 12 months to decide whether to protect the salamander, which lives only in a rapidly developing river gorge southeast of Asheville, North Carolina. 

“The Hickory Nut Gorge green salamander is a species worthy of protection under the Endangered Species Act,” said Ben Prater, Southeast Program Director at Defenders of Wildlife. “The science is clear and this species needs immediate action to prevent extinction. We applaud the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for moving forward in response to our petition and will continue to advocate for conservation and recovery efforts to proceed as quickly as possible.” 

These green-splotched salamanders live only in the Hickory Nut Gorge, a 14-mile-long gorge in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, which is 18 miles south of Asheville and facing rapid development pressure. Scientists estimate there are only a few hundred of them left on Earth, and populations have declined steeply in the past 20 years. 

“These salamanders are clinging to survival, and this decision is a good first step toward protecting an important part of North Carolina’s natural heritage,” said Will Harlan, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “I hope the Fish and Wildlife Service moves quickly to give these remarkable creatures the protections they need. Without quick action, they’ll vanish forever.” 

In June 2022, Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned to list the Hickory Nut Gorge green salamander under the ESA. Today the USFWS issued a 90-day finding that the animals may warrant listing under the Act. With this finding, the USFWS will now launch a formal species status assessment to guide its decision.  

Full protection as an endangered species would ensure that Hickory Nut Gorge green salamanders and their remaining habitat are safeguarded. It would also require a federal recovery plan to restore their populations. 

Unlike most salamanders, Hickory Nut Gorge green salamanders spend most of their lives in trees and rock outcrops using their unique markings to stay camouflaged.  

Habitat loss, human exploitation and climate change could wipe out this salamander and many other species inhabiting the gorge. The nonprofit NatureServe already classifies the Hickory Nut Gorge green salamander as critically imperiled. 

The Center and Defenders are working with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and others in the Hickory Nut Gorge to protect salamander populations. 

Southern Appalachia is a global biodiversity hotspot for salamanders, with more salamander species than anywhere else in the world. Unfortunately, 60% of salamander species are threatened with extinction, including the Hickory Nut Gorge green salamander. 

“Losing the Hickory Nut Gorge green salamander would be heartbreaking,” said Harlan. “We can save this salamander, but we need to act now.” 

Defenders of Wildlife is celebrating 75 years of protecting all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With a nationwide network of nearly 2.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit defenders.org/newsroom and follow us on Twitter @Defenders.

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