New genetic research has determined that the Northwest is home to a species of salamander previously unknown to science: the Scott Bar salamander (Plethodon asupak), which inhabits the Siskiyou Mountains of southern Oregon and northern California. It may not be the sexiest creature on earth, but it is still a pretty incredible discovery.

"It’s pretty rare to find a new species of something that actually has four legs," said Joseph Vaile of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center in Ashland. "Usually, it’s something like a new lichen, or maybe an insect. This is really an exciting discovery."

It’s also reason to breath a sigh of relief that President Clinton designated the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument precisely in order to protect the region’s astonishing biodiversity. At the same time, it’s further evidence that better oversight and more stringent conservation measures are needed in that area, which is home to a unique convergence of vegetation-types from the Great Basin, the Cascades, and the Klamath Mountains.

Timber sales in the Siskiyous are generating enormous controversy. (Excellent coverage of the Biscuit Fire salvage logging in High Country News (subscription required).) It’s no wonder. Not only is the area rich in biodiversity, it has also been hammered by clearcut logging. Here is an animated map that depicts just 30 years of logging in the region.