Native salamander species nears endangerment

LOW NUMBERS: Scientists estimate there are only a few hundred Hickory Gorge green salamanders left in the wild. Photo by Todd Pierson, courtesy of the Center for Biological Diversity

The Hickory Nut Gorge green salamander, found exclusively in a 14-mile-long gorge southeast of Asheville, is being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Scientists estimate there are only a few hundred of them left on Earth, and populations have declined steeply over 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, Southeast director and senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, a national nonprofit conservation organization based out of Tucson, Ariz., in a press release. “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.”

The salamanders were discovered to be an individual species by conservation biologist JJ Apodaca, executive director of the Asheville-based Amphibian and Reptile Conservancy. Apodaca says salamanders are one of the most threatened vertebrates in the world and do not adapt well to environmental changes caused by humans.

“This is a really important issue for us, especially with the amount of species we have in this region,” Apodaca says. “Roughly a fifth of all salamander species can be found within 100 miles of here, so it’s really important that we take steps to protect them. With the [Hickory Gorge green salamander], there has been a lot of development encroaching on their natural habitat.”

In June 2022, the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned to have the Hickory Nut Gorge green salamander listed under the Endangered Species Act. On Jan. 24, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it would launch a formal species status assessment to determine whether the salamanders need additional protection. The agency has 12 months to issue its determination.

If the Fish and Wildlife Service determines the species is endangered, Harlan says, more restrictions will likely be put in place to minimize the environmentally harmful activities such as construction in the salamander’s natural habitat. Additionally, it would also require a federal recovery plan to be implemented to help restore their populations.

“People come to this region because of its beauty and biodiversity,” Harlan says. “We want to make sure that our natural landscapes remain intact for people to continue loving this region. We can protect the Hickory Nut Gorge and ensure that it’s a place of beauty and biodiversity, and not an overdeveloped tourist trap.”

Good to Know

  • MountainTrue kicked off its first Asheville-based native perennial and shrub sale on Feb. 15. The sale features several perennial and shrub species native to the Southern Appalachian Mountains, including azaleas, ornamental native plants and pollinator species. Orders can be placed online through March 31 on MountainTrue’s website. More information at
  • The N.C. Department of Transportation is seeking public input on its plans for two greenway projects in Buncombe County: the Swannanoa River Greenway Connection and the Fonta Flora State Trail in Black Mountain. Community members can provide feedback on the projects through surveys found on the NCDOT website. More information at
  • On Feb. 6, 70 mayors from across the country, including Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer, sent a letter to the Biden administration urging it to finalize the Environmental Protection Agency’s strongest proposed rule for the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards for heavy-duty vehicles. If approved, the new rule would accelerate the transition from large internal combustion engine vehicles to heavy-duty electric vehicles aimed at reducing carbon emissions. More information at
  • The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy recently received a donation of a 172-acre conservation easement on the South McDaris Ridge in the upper reaches of the Reems Creek valley. This transaction is part of SAHC’s long-term conservation plan to protect the water quality of Reems Creek, a tributary of the French Broad River. With the addition of the South McDaris Ridge conservation easement, SAHC’s conservation easements and preserves total nearly 3,000 acres. More information at
  • On Jan. 31, the Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of MountainTrue, the Center for Biological Diversity, Chattooga Conservancy, Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina against the U.S Forest Service regarding its Southside Timber Project. More information at

Save the date

  • The N.C. Tomato Growers Association is hosting its 56th annual Winter Vegetable Conference and Trade Show on Wednesday and Thursday, Feb. 21-22, at the Crowne Plaza Resort. The event is the largest commercial vegetable grower event in the region and will feature an educational program led by extension specialists at N.C. State University. More information at
  • The 21st annual Business of Farming Conference, presented by the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, will be held 8 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 24, at the A-B Tech Conference Center in Asheville. The conference will focus on the business side of farming, offering attendees financial, legal, operational and marketing tools to improve farm businesses and make professional connections. More information at
  • The WNC Nature Center will host a Night at the Nature Center from 6-8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 24. The event is designed for kids and will feature educational crafts and games revolving around nocturnal animals. Additionally, participants will have the opportunity to visit with several of the center’s nocturnal animals. More information at
  • The Organic Growers School is hosting its annual spring conference March 8-10 at Mars Hill University. Over the weekend, there will be 90-minute workshops organized into 13 tracks, including Earth Stewardship, Gardening, Cooking, Mushrooms, Herbs and Permaculture. Additionally, an exhibit hall will feature local vendors, the Southeastern Seed & Plant Exchange, a raffle and several networking opportunities. More information at
  • The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy is hosting a community farm tour on Saturday, March 2, at the SAHC Community Farm. The event will feature a 1.5-mile hike along the Discovery Trail, an educational path with signs showing the history of the farm, local wildlife, agricultural best management practices and the organization’s restoration projects. The event is free for SAHC members and $10 for nonmembers. More information at

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About Chase Davis
Chase Davis is an Asheville-based reporter working for Mountain Xpress. He was born and raised in Georgia and holds a Bachelor's degree in Political Science from LaGrange College. Follow me @ChaseDavis0913

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