Conservation groups say they’ll go to court to force action 20 years after federal biologists first said the species qualifies for protection
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Rare boreal toads need Endangered Species Act protection sooner rather later, according to conservation activists who this week said they will sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over it’s failure to protect dwindling populations of the ampibian.
Although Colorado populations of boreal toads have also declined from historic levels, the state is still somewhat of a stronghold, thanks in part to a state-led restoration effort and other protective measures. Boreal toads exist in less than 1 percent of their historic breeding areas in the southern Rockies.
The lawsuit would focus on boreal toad populations in the southern Rocky Mountains, Utah, southern Idaho and northeastern Nevada. In those areas, genetic research has shown the toads to part of a genetically distinct clade of toads that have as much genetic diversity as previously recognized separate species.
The decline of boreal toads has been linked to the worldwide spread of an invasive fungus that has been wiping out amphibian populations at a stunning pace. The toads are also threatened by habitat destruction, especially from less than stellar grazing practices around key wetland breeding sites.
Conservation groups hope that putting the toads on the Endangered Species List would free up funds to do more research on the chytrid fungu and help save high-elevation stream and wetland habitat from threats like pollution and poorly managed recreation and livestock grazing. The Endangered Species Act has prevented extinction for 99.9 percent of the species it protects.
“People used to see these toads in their gardens, but now boreal toads are gone from those gardens, and from most of the other places they called home,” said Collette Adkins Giese, a biologist and attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “In the southern Rockies they’ve been waiting nearly two decades for Endangered Species Act protection.
Once widely distributed and common in the western United States, boreal toad populations have plummeted over the past few decades. Their status is particularly precarious in the southern Rocky Mountains, where a globally occurring amphibian disease known as chytrid fungus has wiped out most remaining populations. Boreal toads exist in less than 1 percent of their historic breeding areas in the southern Rockies.
“The boreal toad is the region’s only alpine, forest-dwelling toad,” said conservation biologist Megan Mueller of Rocky Mountain Wild. “This unique toad is an indicator of the environmental health of our mountain streams and wetlands. The boreal toad cannot afford any additional delay from the agency.”
Federal biologists said in 1995 that the toads deserve protection and added the species to the candidate list. Under the Bush administration, in 2005, the Service reversed course and removing boreal toads from the candidate list. The agency concluded that boreal toads in the southern Rockies were not “significant,” in part because they appeared genetically similar to other populations found elsewhere in the West.
The boreal toad is rare across its range and is entirely absent from numerous areas where it occurred historically. Boreal toads were nearly extirpated in southern Wyoming and were likely extirpated in New Mexico prior to a recent reintroduction effort. The Service’s positive 90-day finding, issued last year, recognizes the scientific evidence showing that these genetically unique boreal toads are experiencing significant declines in population size and distribution.
Filed under: biodiversity, endangered species, Environment Tagged: | amphibian decline, boreal toads, chytrid fungus, Colorado, endangered species, endangered species act, New Mexico, United States Fish and Wildlife Service