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Big Game Bonfire is a tradition of the past

After four years of careful consideration, the university has decided to put an end to the Big Game Bonfire at Lake Lagunita in an effort to preserve the last known breeding site of the California tiger salamander.

The decision to permanently cancel the event comes after scientists from the Center for Conservation Biology concluded that a modified bonfire plan would still pose a significant threat to the yellow-and-black amphibians designated a "state species of special concern" by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The study estimated that a minimum of 13 percent of the California tiger salamanders in the lake area would likely be destroyed if the bonfire were held on the site.

Big Game bonfires at Stanford date back to 1898. The practice was halted from 1976 through 1985 because of crowd control concerns and poor safety in construction practices (students were injured building the 1976 pyre). It was canceled again in 1989 because of a lack of student funding, then again in 1993, when scientists discovered that the tiger salamander resided in banks of the lake.

In 1994, the Stanford Axe Committee, the organization that plans most Big Game festivities, voluntarily discontinued the bonfire, pending completion of a study of the tiger salamander and its habitat. Since that time, the university has been working with various groups to understand the species and the impact of Stanford's activities on its preservation.

During the past year, Stanford staff worked with representatives of the Axe Committee to identify possible ways to reduce the impact of the bonfire. But the Center for Conservation Biology determined that the proposed modifications couldn't mitigate the adverse effects of heat, oxygen depletion and the presence of large crowds.

In lieu of the bonfire, university staff will be working with the Axe Committee and the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) Office of the President to establish a new tradition beginning with the 100th Big Game this November.

The decision to end the bonfire on the lakebed was made by James Montoya, vice provost for student affairs, and Geoffrey Cox, vice provost for institutional planning, in concurrence with President Gerhard Casper. SR

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