The EPA recently ruled that Oregon's stream protection rules, which set buffers prohibiting logging and pesticide spraying near streams on state and private lands, are not sufficient to protect stream temperatures. Despite this ruling the state's board of forestry has yet to enact stronger rules. The Columbia torrent salamander is one of the many species that needs these stronger stream protections.
Species Background Cascade and Columbia Torrent Salamanders: These 4-inch brown salamanders with bulbous eyes and bright-yellow bellies prefer cold, slow-moving mountain streams. Due in part to their extremely reduced lungs, even among salamanders they are considered very intolerant of dry conditions, and as a result they occur primarily in older forest sites better able to maintain high moisture levels. Not surprisingly, timber harvest hurts torrent salamanders more than many other amphibians, and the ongoing loss of their habitat through logging is well documented. The Cascade torrent salamander inhabits coniferous forests on the west slope of the Cascade Mountains, from southern Washington to central Oregon. The Columbia torrent salamander is found in coastal regions of northwestern Oregon and southwestern Washington.
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Cascade, Columbia and Olympic Torrent Salamanders (Oregon, Washington): These 4-inch brown salamanders with bulbous eyes and bright yellow bellies prefer cold, slow-moving mountain streams. Due in part to their extremely reduced lungs, even among salamanders they are considered very intolerant of dry conditions, and as a result they occur primarily in older forest sites better able to maintain high moisture levels. Not surprisingly, timber harvest hurts torrent salamanders more than many other amphibians, and the ongoing loss of their habitat through logging is well documented.
The Cascade torrent salamander inhabits coniferous forests on the west slope of the Cascade Mountains, from southern Washington to central Oregon. The Columbia torrent salamander is found in coastal regions of northwestern Oregon and southwestern Washington. The Olympic torrent salamander is limited to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington.
Both the southern torrent salamander and the tailed frog can be adversely impacted by logging (Bury and Corn, 1988; Welsh et al., 2000). Studies in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park showed that increases in fine sediment negatively impacted both species (Welsh and Ollivier, 1998). Extensive studies in the Mattole River watershed indicate that both these species are now at extremely low levels in the basin and restricted to the remaining old growth forest habitat (H. Welsh, unpublished data). Stream conditions after logging are often profoundly changed as temperatures increase, making egg survival problematic. Even partial removal of stream canopy can increase water temperatures and decrease relative humidity along the stream corridor which can make these areas unsuitable for southern torrent salamanders (Welsh and Lind, 1996) and tailed frogs (Bury and Corn, 1988). The southern torrent salamander may be more tolerant of stream canopy removal in the redwood forests in the zone of marine influence (summer fog), based on its present distribution in altered landscapes (Diller and Wallace, 1994 as cited in Welsh et al., 2000). See summary charts by Dr. Hartwell Welsh of tailed frog and southern torrent salamander habitat relationships and pictures of habitats surveyed in the Mattole River basin.
Bury, R.B. and P.S. Corn. 1988. Responses of aquatic and streamside riparian amphibian species to timber harvest: a review. In: K. Raedeke (ed.) Streamside Management: Riparian Wildlife and Forestry Interactions. pp. 165-181. Institute of Forestry Resources. Cont. 59. University of Washington, Seattle, WA.
Welsh, H.H., G.R. Hodgson, M.F. Roche, B.C. Harvey. 2001. Distribution of juvenile coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) in relation to water temperatures in tributaries of a northern California watershed: Determining management thresholds for an impaired cold-water adapted fauna. Submitted to North American Journal of Fisheries Management.
If you want to learn more about the Columbia torrent salamander and other amphibians in Oregon, the Oregon Forest Resources Institute has a new publication about forest amphibians you can order or download here. Other good resources include the Oregon Conservation Strategy website.
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The torrent sculpin (Cottus rhotheus) is a freshwater sculpin. Like most cottids, the torrent sculpin is a benthic species characterized by large, rounded pectoral fins, a large, flattened head with dorsal eyes, and a body and head frequently covered with spines or prickles (Moyle and Cech 1996). The torrent sculpin is gray-brown with black speckling and has a heavily mottled chin and has two forward-slanting, dark bands on both sides of its body under the soft, posterior portion of the dorsal fin. During spawning season, males darken, and the upper fringe of the anterior dorsal fin turns a bright orange (Troffe 1999). The torrent sculpin is often larger than many other species of freshwater sculpins, reaching a maximum length of approximately 150 mm (Wydoski and Whitney 2003). Morphological characteristics that distinguish the torrent sculpin from other sculpin species are its large head (generally greater than 30 percent of its total body length), complete lateral line, slender caudal peduncle, strongly mottled chin, wide mouth (wider than body width at the pectoral fins, well-developed palatine teeth, and two chin pores (Wydoski and Whitney 2003; Holton and Johnson 2003).
The torrent sculpin is native to the Pacific Northwest and is found in Washington, Oregon, British Columbia, Idaho, and Montana. It occurs primarily in tributary systems of the Columbia River basin, but also occurs in the Fraser River System in British Columbia, and in coastal streams from Oregon to British Columbia. In Montana, the torrent sculpin has only been found in the northwestern part of the state in the Kootenai River drainage (Brown 1971; Gangemi 1992; Figure 1). Torrent sculpin distribution appeared to be restricted to tributary streams of the Kootenai River in close proximity to the main river, although the species was present at distances greater than 5 km from the main river in Tobacco River tributaries (Gangemi 1992). Sculpins were formerly legal live baitfish in Montana, but there is no evidence suggesting this practice has expanded the range of the torrent sculpin in Montana (Hendricks 1997). The slimy sculpin C. cognatus is the only other sculpin species that has been found to co-occur with the torrent sculpin in Montana (Gangemi 1992). Whereas interbreeding between the two species is possible, the limited genetic work that has been conducted has not shown any evidence of hybridization (Hendricks 1997).
The torrent sculpin is primarily a lotic species found in clear, cold streams with swift current, but also occurs to a lesser extent in rocky shoals of lakes (Holton and Johnson 2003; Wydoski and Whitney 2003). Lotic torrent sculpin are typically found in streams greater than 2.4 m wide (Wydoski and Whitney 2003). For example, in northern Idaho, streams with torrent sculpin averaged 10.4 m wide (Quintela 2004). Like other sculpins, the torrent sculpin is most frequently found in fast-water habitat (riffles, runs, and cascades), and less frequently in pools (Finger 1982; Roni 2002; Wydoski and Whitney 2003). Wydoski and Whitney (2003) reported that torrent sculpin collected from streams on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington were found in riffles and runs slightly over 70 percent of the time and in pools just 31 percent of the time. As a benthic species, the presence of torrent sculpin is closely associated with substrate composition. It is most abundant when stable cobble or gravel substrate is available (Finger 1982; Wydoski and Whitney 2003; Quintela 2004). The species likely uses the interstices in coarse substrate as cover and as a place to find food (e.g., Brusven and Rose 1981).
The torrent sculpin feeds predominately on zooplankton and aquatic insect larvae as a sub-adult; adult diets also include small fish and fish eggs (Northcote 1954; Brown 1971; Patten 1971; Pasch and Lyford 1972; Troffe 1999). The torrent sculpin, with its large mouth and larger overall size, has the ability to select bigger prey items than other species of freshwater sculpins (Northcote 1954; Pasch and Lyford 1972; Wydoski and Whitney 2003). In situations where the species is sympatric with another sculpin species, the ability to select a wider variety of prey sizes likely offers the torrent sculpin a competitive advantage. Sculpins, including the torrent sculpin, tend to be prevalent and abundant in salmonid streams (Bailey 1952; McCleave 1964; Maret and MacCoy 2002), and provide an important food source for many salmonids (Brown 1971; Wydoski and Whitney 2003). 2b1af7f3a8