THE U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE ruled that an estimated $441 million in lost development opportunities in California over the next 20 years outweighed added protection of the California tiger salamander.

In a ruling issued in August, of the roughly 400,000 acres the federal agency holds in 19 Northern California counties, it removed 183,557 acres from protection, preserving approximately 199,000 acres.

Local home builders praised the decision, pointing out that California needs new housing stock to offset its affordability crisis, which is driven by the combination of scarce land, increased population, high demand, and short supply. The median sales price in the San Francisco hit $750,000 this summer.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service can take whatever steps it deems necessary to protect a species,” says Joseph Perkins, CEO of the HBA of Northern California. “They don't have to preserve 400,000 acres for the tiger salamander,” he says, adding that “with nearly 200,000 acres preserved, the [federal government] is the biggest landowner in 19 counties.”

Perkins says a more effective way to protect endangered species is through voluntary cooperative partnerships that include habitat conservation plans and safe harbor agreements. Such agreements are usually negotiated by state, local, and regional governments with builders and environmental groups.

According to the Associated Press, the environmental group the Center for Biological Diversity says the government's decision would harm the salamander and would accelerate the loss of open space.

In an official statement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the salamander is threatened by a variety of factors, including habitat destruction, hybridization with non-native tiger salamanders, and predation by non-native species.

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