NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

"Endangered" Salamander Jeopardizes California Wine Regions

April 3, 2000

When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed the California tiger salamander on its emergency list of endangered species earlier this year, it struck fear in the hearts of the state's wine-grape growers. The action made it a crime to harm the critter or its habitat.

  • Although the agency has yet to identify the precise location or range of the species or specify how the ponds in which it breeds must be preserved, farmers still face up to a year in jail and a $50,000 fine for harming it.
  • The species has been found in one of the most promising and fastest-growing wine regions in California -- an area at the northern end of Santa Barbara County.
  • The designation means that farmers can't mow or plow -- or convert farms into vineyards.
  • In an area that has seen a number of farms convert to vineyards in recent years, growers suspect that many of the conservationists are wealthier urban residents who are trying to preserve the land for aesthetic reasons and using the salamander as an excuse.

"I am enough of a biologist to tell you that a lot of this stuff about the salamanders is junk science," says one vineyard owner. He says the biggest threat to the salamanders is cars, not vineyards.

Source: James Sterngold, "California Wine Region Torn by Debate Over Use of Land," New York Times, April 3, 2000.


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