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VENTURA FWO: Banking on Conservation: Promoting California Tiger Salamander Recovery in Santa Barbara County
California-Nevada Offices , July 22, 2014
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Unlike many other salamanders, California tiger salamanders only spend a very short period of their life in water.
Unlike many other salamanders, California tiger salamanders only spend a very short period of their life in water. - Photo Credit: Alice Abela
The La Purisima Conservation Bank is located between the cities of Buellton and Lompoc in Santa Barbara County, and preserves more than 850 acres of California tiger salamander upland habitat.
The La Purisima Conservation Bank is located between the cities of Buellton and Lompoc in Santa Barbara County, and preserves more than 850 acres of California tiger salamander upland habitat. - Photo Credit: Bruce Reitherman
Left to right: Roger Root, Representative Lois Capps, Steve Henry, Andrea Adams, Jeff Phillips, Chris Diel and Ashley Spratt.
Left to right: Roger Root, Representative Lois Capps, Steve Henry, Andrea Adams, Jeff Phillips, Chris Diel and Ashley Spratt. - Photo Credit: USFWS

By Andrea Adams

Grassland-covered hills dotted with stock ponds remain motionless as strong coastal winds sweep across the La Purisima Ranch in southern California’s Santa Barbara County. Beneath the hills, California tiger salamanders live out their days in small underground burrows, surfacing to visit the ponds on rainy nights to breed. This year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved the La Purisima Conservation Bank, the first conservation bank in the region to ensure permanent habitat protection to support California tiger salamander recovery.

The California tiger salamanders that live in Santa Barbara County are the most genetically distinct from the other populations of the species, having been separated from them for at least 740,000 years. The Santa Barbara County population of California tiger salamanders was listed as endangered in 2000 under the federal Endangered Species Act because large portions of the species’ habitat were rapidly degraded as land was converted for large-scale, intensive agricultural use and urban development.

"The benefit of conservation banks is that they permanently protect lands that can be conserved and managed for species that are endangered, threatened or otherwise at risk," says Steve Henry with the Service’s Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office. Henry adds that landowners participating in the conservation bank program also receive financial incentive to manage the habitat for the benefit of the species.

Conservation banks such as La Purisima Ranch offset adverse impacts to species that may occur during development projects. In exchange for permanently protecting the land and managing it for certain species, the Service approves a specified number of habitat or species credits that bank owners may sell. Developers may purchase credits from conservation bank owners to mitigate adverse impacts their projects have on species.

“We are delighted to assist in the recovery of the California tiger salamander population in Santa Barbara County, while at the same time benefiting from financial rewards by helping development projects in other areas,” says La Purisima Ranch landowner Brian Sweeney.

Unlike many other salamanders, California tiger salamanders only spend a very short period of their life in water. As juveniles, they leave the water to seek underground burrows made by small mammals where they mature to adulthood. Upon reaching maturation at four to five years, adults, about six to nine inches from nose to tail, migrate to breeding pools during the rainy season. Adults can travel more than a mile to these pools and therefore require large areas of upland habitat as part of their life cycle.

The La Purisima Conservation Bank preserves more than 850 acres of California tiger salamander upland habitat and six known California tiger salamander breeding ponds.

“The La Purisima Conservation Bank – the first of its kind in Santa Barbara County – is an innovative idea to permanently protect important central coast land,” said Congresswoman Lois Capps. “We must protect threatened wildlife species and I am glad the community was able to work together to conserve this essential habitat.”

The City of Santa Maria and California Department of Transportation have already purchased credits from the La Purisima Conservation Bank to offset transportation project impacts.

“[Conservation] banks are incredible—they provide an alternative to mitigating in road rights-of-way, and if we can put state money to use for this type of conservation, then that’s ideal. Banks make so much sense,” says Paul Andreano, a consulting environmental planner for the California Department of Transportation, which purchased credits for a highway widening project that includes the construction of under-crossings to reduce vehicle collisions with California tiger salamanders and other wildlife.

The La Purisima Conservation Bank is next to a 539-acre preservation area for the California tiger salamander, and is near Vandenberg Air Force Base and the La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, ensuring a large area of ecologically important habitat, for many species, is preserved in perpetuity. Other species protected by the conservation bank include the western spadefoot, a toad species of special concern in California, and numerous native plants, migratory and resident birds, mountain lions, and reptile species such as the coast horned lizard, also a species of special concern.

For more information about the Service's Conservation Banking program visit http://www.fws.gov/endangered/landowners/conservation-banking.html

Andrea Adams is a biologist at the Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office in Ventura, California.

 


La Purisima Conservation Bank Celebration
https://www.flickr.com//photos/usfws_pacificsw/sets/72157645586245845/show/with/14605464424/
Contact Info: Andrea Adams, 805-644-1766, ext. 318, andrea_adams@fws.gov



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