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For Immediate Release, March 14, 2011

Contact: Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681

More Than 11,000 Acres of Critical Habitat Proposed for
Rare Chiricahua Leopard Frog in Arizona, New Mexico

TUCSON, Ariz.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed 11,136 acres of critical habitat today in Arizona and New Mexico for the threatened Chiricahua leopard frog.

“Protecting critical habitat is the most powerful tool this country has for saving endangered plants and animals, so we’re thrilled the Chiricahua leopard frog is finally getting the habitat protection it needs to survive,” said Tierra Curry, a biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity, which petitioned to protect the frog in 1998.

The frog’s proposed critical habitat is located in Apache, Cochise, Gila, Graham, Greenlee, Pima, Santa Cruz and Yavapai counties, Arizona; and Catron, Hidalgo, Grant, Sierra and Socorro counties, New Mexico. The habitat is dispersed in 40 units that safeguard the permanent water sources the frog needs to rebound from severe population decline.

Once found in more than 400 aquatic sites in the Southwest, the frog now exists at fewer than 80 — less than 20 percent of its historic range. It no longer occurs in the Chiricahua Mountains where it was discovered, and has also been lost from the entire Little Colorado drainage.

The frog is threatened by predation from nonnative bullfrogs and crayfish, a fungal disease and habitat degradation from livestock grazing, mining, stream diversions, groundwater pumping and loss of natural fire regimes. The frog is also known to be threatened by water pollution from the proposed Rosemont Copper Mine in the Santa Rita Mountains outside Tucson.

Under the Endangered Species Act, federal agencies are prohibited from permitting, funding or carrying out projects that will damage critical habitat. Critical habitat is a highly effective tool for helping rare species to survive; a study by the Center has shown that plants and animals with federally designated critical habitat are more than twice as likely to be recovering than those without it.

“The status of the Chiricahua leopard frog in Arizona has improved since it was protected under the Endangered Species Act, and the protection of its critical habitat will make a big difference to its recovery,” said Curry.

The Center filed suit against the Service in 1999 and in 2001 for delaying Endangered Species Act protection for the frog, which received court-ordered protection in 2002. The Center is part of the stakeholders’ group that developed a 2007 federal plan to recover the frog — advocating for reducing cattle, preserving springs and removing bullfrogs on several grazing allotments. By August 2010, 10,000 captive-bred frogs had been reintroduced to Arizona ponds.

Chiricahua leopard frog adults are two to five inches long. They are known for making a unique noise that sounds like a snore.

Today’s proposal also includes a new proposed threatened listing for the frog due to a taxonomic revision that changes its scientific name from Rana chiricahuensis to Lithobates chiricahuensis. New genetic studies found that the Ramsey Canyon leopard frog from the Huachuca Mountains in Cochise County, which was previously thought to be a separate species, is actually a Chiricahua leopard frog; that population is now also proposed for federal protection.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 320,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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