For Immediate Release, March 26, 2014

Contact: Collette Adkins Giese, (651) 955-3821

Fish and Wildlife Service Prematurely Proposes to Reduce Protections for
California's Endangered Arroyo Toad

LOS ANGELES— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed to reduce protections for the arroyo toad under the Endangered Species Act. The proposed rule downlists the toad from endangered to threatened despite the fact that the agency’s own recovery criteria have not been met and threats to the rare amphibian’s survival remain.

Arroyo toad
Photo by Chris Brown, USGS. Photos are available for media use.

“It’s clearly premature to lower the arroyo toad’s status from endangered to threatened,” said Collette Adkins Giese, a Center for Biological Diversity attorney and biologist dedicated to protecting rare amphibians and reptiles. “Protections under the Endangered Species Act have led to conservation actions that have prevented the toad’s extinction, but recovery criteria haven’t been met and threats remain.”

The Service itself concedes that the plan’s downlisting criteria have not been met. Specifically, the recovery plan requires 20 self-sustaining populations at specific locations on federal lands. Yet the animals persist only in 17 small, isolated populations on federal land, mostly in the headwaters of coastal streams along the central and southern coasts of California and southward to northwestern Baja. The Service lacks the data to know whether these populations are increasing, decreasing or stable.

“The downlisting criteria in the arroyo toad’s recovery plan are based on sound science and should be followed,” said Adkins Giese. “The Service needs to continue to work toward the specific goals of the recovery plan by implementing conservation measures to protect the toad from threats like urbanization, drought and climate change.”

When the arroyo toad was protected under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1994 it had experienced population declines of more than 75 percent, mostly due to dam construction and flood control. Most of the threats that prompted listing of the toad still remain. In particular, dams and water diversion, urban development, introduced predators and drought continue to threaten the toad. Plus, the toad is now experiencing additional threats that were not identified at the time it was protected, such as climate change, which the Service characterizes as a “serious” and “pervasive” threat.

The arroyo toad (Anaxyrus californicus) is a stocky, small and warty toad. Its skin is olive green, gray or light brown, and it has a lightly colored “V” across its head and eyelids. The rare amphibian depends on streams and rivers in coastal and desert drainages in central and southern California and Baja California, Mexico, and breeds in shallow pools along slow-moving streams with sandy soils.

The Service listed the toad as endangered in 1994. In 1999 the agency issued a recovery plan, which was revised in 2005 and 2011. The agency designated 182,360 acres of critical habitat for the toad in 2001, but a 2005 decision cut the toad’s proposed critical habitat by more than 90 percent. In response to litigation from the Center, the agency increased the toad’s final designated critical habitat to 98,366 acres.

In 2000 the Center settled a suit with the U.S. Forest Service that included an agreement to close parts of Los Padres National Forest to protect arroyo toad habitat. In 2001 the Center won protection for the arroyo toad by convincing the Bureau of Land Management to close a sand-and-gravel mine in Whitewater Canyon, protecting one of the few remaining toad populations within the California Desert Conservation Area. And in 2005 the Center worked to maintain Angeles National Forest closures to off-road vehicles along Southern California’s Littlerock and Santiago creeks.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 675,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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