April 20, 2024 12:47 pm
Search
Close this search box.

Local News

Endangered Green Salamanders in Need of Protection

Credit: iStock

Parker Wallis

They’re elusive, colorful, covered in mucus, and an integral part of the local ecosystem currently threatened with extinction. 

Having only been discovered in 2020, the green salamander has been a key species in the Southern Appalachian landscape for 12 million years, assisting with the process of nutrient cycling and playing a vital role in the food web. These amphibians feast on insects like mosquitoes and ticks while serving as food for larger predators. Environmental experts often regard the species’ well-being as a barometer gauging the health of wetland and forest ecosystems. 

The nonprofit NatureServe considers green salamanders “critically imperiled,” and the state has recognized the amphibians as a “threatened species” and a “species of greatest conservation need.” According to scientist estimates, there are only a few hundred green salamanders left on the planet. 

“The population of green salamanders has been declining for just about as long as it’s been monitored,” said Josh Kelly of MountainTrue, who has helped monitor a small population on Brushy Mountain. “There’s a very real chance that, if trends continue, the species will go extinct.” 

Joseph Apodaca, a conservation biologist and geneticist hired by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), has been observing the species and their habitats for over a decade and claims the Brushy Mountain population is seeing a “zero growth rate.”

“Like many of southern Appalachia’s iconic salamanders, this species is facing an existential crisis brought on by habitat loss and climate change,” noted Ben Prater, Southeast program director at Defenders of Wildlife. 

Due to its meager population, the salamanders are additionally at risk of diversity loss due to inbreeding. Even natural processes like soil erosion put the species in danger as Apodaca notes that the shifting environment on the steep slopes of the Brushy Mountain site threatens to cover nests with dirt, debris, and plant growth. 

 In June 2022, conservation groups banded together to petition the US Fish and Wildlife Service to protect green salamanders under the Endangered Species Act, namely an at-risk population in Hickory Nut Gorge, a 14-mile long ravine in the Blue Ridge Mountains. 

“It has been clinging to the gorge’s walls for millions of years,” said Will Harlan, senior campaigner and scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “But now, to keep holding on, it urgently needs the Fish and Wildlife Service to act.”

“This ancient salamander exemplifies the biological richness and history of the Hickory Nut Gorge,” said Apodaca, who also serves as the executive director at the Amphibian and Reptile Conservancy. “Sadly, human exploitation of this fragile ecosystem puts it, along with scores of other species, at risk. Thankfully, there’s still time to take meaningful steps to protect the gorge’s irreplaceable biodiversity.”

Solar leases help NC farm owners up revenues, keep homestead

In the serene fields of Pendleton, North Carolina, Ajulo Othow, founder of EnerWealth Solutions, draws inspiration from her post-Katrina economic development work to establish solar installations that not only respect the landscape but offer sustainable income to local landowners. Her projects prioritize minimal disruption while maximizing benefits, reflecting a thoughtful approach to renewable energy in rural settings, and enhancing both economic and environmental resilience.

North Carolina Tenants Union seeks to level playing field in state’s tight housing market

In response to challenges faced by North Carolina tenants, including unjust evictions, unaffordable rent hikes, and poor living conditions, the North Carolina Tenants Union (NCTU) was officially launched with the aim of empowering tenants through collective action for fairer housing policies and laws. With a statewide network of local tenant unions, NCTU focuses on crucial issues such as legal representation in eviction proceedings, strengthening housing codes, and facilitating collective bargaining for lease renegotiations.

Troubled waters: DEQ proposes adding 400+ miles of streams, rivers to impaired list

Despite Bogue Sound’s serene appearance along North Carolina’s Crystal Coast, it faces significant environmental threats from bacteria due to aging wastewater infrastructure and other pollution sources, prompting a proposal to list over 1,500 acres of the sound on the federal impaired waterways list for the year. This situation underscores a broader concern across the state, with over 400 miles of streams and rivers proposed to be added to this list, reflecting the ongoing challenge of balancing development and environmental preservation.