In accordance with a landmark agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today granted Endangered Species Act protections to Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frogs, Yosemite toads and a population of mountain yellow-legged frogs that lives in the Sierra Nevada.
The protections are the result of a 2011 agreement between the Center and the Service to speed up endangered species protection decisions for 757 imperiled animals and plants around the country. So far 106 species have been fully protected, and another 32 species have been proposed for protection under the settlement agreement. The amphibians protected today have been waiting more than a decade for help.
“We’re glad these frogs and toads are getting the lifeline they need so badly,” said Collette Adkins Giese, a Center biologist and lawyer who specializes in protecting amphibians and reptiles. “Threats like toxic pesticides hurt these animals even in the high Sierras. But now, with the protections of the Endangered Species Act, we can do what’s necessary to save these rare amphibians from extinction.”
Yellow-legged frogs throughout the Sierra Nevada have suffered dramatic declines in range and numbers due to habitat destruction and degradation, disease, predation by nonnative trout, pesticides and climate change. Yosemite toads have also disappeared from many areas and suffered population losses, including in Yosemite National Park, where these toads were first discovered and given their name. Yosemite toads are threatened primarily by livestock grazing, climate change and pesticides.
“Yellow-legged frogs and Yosemite toads have suffered massive declines in recent decades and disappeared from most of the places where they once lived,” said Adkins Giese. “The Endangered Species Act has a nearly perfect record of stopping animals from going extinct — it’s hands-down our best tool for saving these rare amphibians.”
Today’s rule explains that the Service will be designating final critical habitat for the amphibians in the “near future.” In April 2013 the Service proposed more than 2 million acres of critical habitat for the frogs and toads; it identified 1,105,400 acres essential for the protection and recovery of the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog; 221,498 acres for the northern population of the mountain yellow-legged frog; and 750,926 acres for the Yosemite toad.
The Center and the Pacific Rivers Council petitioned to protect the Yosemite toad (Anaxyrus canorus) in 2000. The Service added the toad to the candidate list in 2002.
The Center petitioned to protect mountain yellow-legged frogs in the Sierra Nevada in 2000. In response to litigation from the Center, the Service added the frogs to the candidate list in 2003, finding that they warranted protection but that listing was precluded by higher priority species.
Recognizing a recent taxonomic split of the species, today’s rule separately lists the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog (Rana sierrae) and the “northern distinct population segment” of the mountain yellow-legged frog (Rana muscosa). A southern population of the mountain yellow-legged frog, found in the Transverse Ranges of Southern California, has been listed as an endangered species since 2002.
A Center lawsuit against the California Department of Fish and Wildlife led to restrictions on stocking invasive trout in habitats occupied by the yellow-legged frog throughout the Sierra Nevada. With protection under the Endangered Species Act, the frogs and toads will benefit from greater emphasis on protecting their habitats and development of a recovery plan.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
(Photo: Yosemite toad photo by Lucas Wilkinson, U.S. Forest Service)
—Center for Biological Diversity