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Biodiversity: Sierra Nevada frogs proposed for listing

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Recovery efforts for Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frogs may get a boost from a proposed endangered species listing. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Endangered Species Act protection could help stem decline and boost recovery efforts

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — After suffering decades of decline  from habitat destruction, disease, predation by nonnative trout, pesticides and climate change, native Sierra Nevada amphibians may get some measure of protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last week proposed listing Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frogs and Yosemite toads. The agency also proposed protection for a population of mountain yellow-legged frogs that lives in the southern Sierra Nevada. The plan also includes an initial proposal to designate more than 2 million acres of critical habitat.

The proposal are the result of a 2011 agreement between the Center for Biological Diversity and the USFWS to speed up endangered species protection decisions for 757 imperiled animals and plants around the country. So far, 56 species have been fully protected and another 96 have been proposed for protection under the settlement agreement. 

The Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frogs have been on the candidate list since 2003. 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.

“This is great news for the only native amphibians of the high Sierra Nevada, which have suffered massive declines in recent decades and disappeared from most of the places where they once lived,” said the Center’s Jeff Miller. “These rare frogs and toads will finally get protection and recovery efforts to ensure their survival. Our settlement agreement is also moving protection forward for dozens more of our most endangered plants and animals.”

“Not too long ago, yellow-legged frogs and Yosemite toads were a common and popular sight in the high Sierras,” said Miller. “Their declines are a warning of the failing health of our high Sierra ecosystems, which are being hurt by habitat loss, rapid climate change, introduced species, pesticide contamination and an amphibian disease epidemic.”

The Service is proposing to designate a total of 2,077,824 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.

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, both frogs and toads will benefit from greater emphasis on protecting their habitats and development of a recovery plan.

For the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog, the Service proposed 1,105,400 acres for designation as critical habitat in Butte, Plumas, Lassen, Sierra, Nevada, Placer, El Dorado, Amador, Calaveras, Alpine, Mariposa, Mono, Madera, Tuolumne, Fresno and Inyo counties, Calif.

For the northern “distinct population segment” of the mountain yellow-legged frog,the Service proposed 221,498 acres for designation as critical habitat in Fresno and Tulare counties, Calif. Critical habitat identifies and protects the habitat necessary for the recovery of endangered species. Endangered species with protected critical habitat are twice as likely to be recovering as those without.

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. Today the Service proposes to designate 750,926 acres of critical habitat for the toad in Alpine, Tuolumne, Mono, Mariposa, Madera, Fresno and Inyo counties, Calif.

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