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Travis protects migrating endangered species

 TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- About 9 a.m. May 31, airfield operations personnel at Travis Air Force Base, California, witnessed a not so unusual sight, but unusual for that time of day. 

Eight juvenile California tiger salamanders were trying to cross the runway in search of a burrow on the opposite side of the flightline.  Six survived. 

Airfield operations contacted Penn Craig, 60th Civil Engineer Squadron, to relocate the survivors.                

Sensitive to rain and high humidity, the juvenile salamanders are migrating from their ponds to live in burrows built by other small animals, such as squirrels and gophers, said Craig, biologist and the base’s natural and cultural resource manager.  With the recent rain, 11 more CTS have died on the airfield, he said.

“We relocated 78 juvenile CTS today (June 12) after the rain on Sunday,” said Craig.  Only biologists with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approval can touch CTS, he said.

Although juvenile CTS migrate June to July, they do so at night.  Overcast skies in the early morning and late afternoon convinced them it was time to migrate, said Craig.    

“Adult CTS spend 90 percent of their time in burrows and migrate at night to breeding ponds during the wet season, October to April,” said Craig.   

The base is surrounded by 17 breeding ponds, which makes most of Travis CTS territory.  The salamanders will travel more than a mile from a breeding pond to find a burrow, said Craig.  

Four threatened and endangered species like the CTS live on base.  The list also includes the vernal pool fairy shrimp, vernal pool tadpole and the Contra Costa goldfield – an annual that flourishes March through June. 

Like the CTS, these species live in or near the more than 800 areas with vernal pool and wetland features on base.  Most of these areas are off-limits to base personnel. 

Anyone who comes in contact with a CTS should contact Craig at 707-424-8354.

“Penalties for harassing, harming or killing a CTS ranges from $25,000 to $50,000 and up to 12 months in jail,” said Craig.  “Federal and state laws require everyone on base to conserve and protect threatened and endangered species.”

Under the Endangered Species Act, species may be listed as endangered or threatened. Endangered means a species is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.  Threatened means a species is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future.

Federal law also protects the burrowing owl – a long-term resident at Travis – the tricolored blackbird and Swanson hawk that have recently been sited on base, said Craig. 

“The critical time for protecting birds is during the nesting season, February through August,” he said.