Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places of western North America
and the Pacific through science, policy, education, and environmental law.


Contact: Jeff Miller (510) 841-0812
Center for Biological Diversity
More Information: Amphibians, Golden State Biodiversity Initiative

Deanna Spooner (510) 910-3222
Pacific Rivers Council

Berkeley, CA - The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and Pacific Rivers Council (PRC) filed a 60-day notice letter of intent to sue the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) last week for stalling Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection for two Sierra Nevada amphibians. The FWS has illegally delayed processing of petitions to list the Yosemite toad (Bufo canorus) and the Sierra Nevada population of the mountain yellow-legged frog (Rana muscosa) under the ESA. The petitions, which were submitted by CBD and PRC over one year ago, documented significant and alarming declines in the range and abundance of both amphibians. On October 12, 2000, FWS issued a finding that the petitions presented substantial information indicating that listing both amphibians may be warranted. FWS was required to make a final determination of listing status by March 2, 2001 for the mountain yellow-legged frog, and by March 6, 2001 for the Yosemite toad.

"We're in danger of losing what were once the two most common high Sierra amphibians," said Jeff Miller, spokesman for the Center for Biological Diversity. "Both species clearly warrant immediate listing as endangered. The rapid disappearance of the Yosemite toad and the mountain yellow-legged frog from the Sierra Nevada is part of a disturbing global pattern of amphibian decline. This should concern us, because the health of amphibian populations are an indicator of the health of our aquatic habitats and atmospheric conditions."

"The Fish and Wildlife Service's foot-dragging in protecting these declining amphibians under the Endangered Species Act is both inexcusable and illegal," added Laura Hoehn, an attorney with Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, which is representing CBD and PRC in this case. "Inaction may lead to extinction," she said.

The mountain yellow-legged frog was historically the most abundant frog in the Sierra Nevada. It was widely distributed in high elevation water bodies from southern Plumas County to southern Tulare County. Recent surveys found that the species has disappeared from 70 to 90 percent of its historic localities. Remaining frog populations are widely scattered and consist of few breeding adults. What was recently thought to be one of the largest remaining populations, containing over 2000 adult frogs in 1996, has completely collapsed - only two frogs were found in the same area in 1999.

The Yosemite toad was historically common in the high country of the central Sierra Nevada, from Fresno to Alpine Counties. Recent surveys report that it has disappeared from a majority of historic sites. Declines have been especially alarming in Yosemite National Park, with studies at Tioga Pass documenting wholesale population crashes. Both amphibian species and their habitats have been adversely impacted by introduced fish, pesticides, ozone depletion, pathogens, and cattle grazing.

"Amphibians are the watershed equivalent of 'canaries in the coal mine'" said Deanna Spooner of the Pacific Rivers Council. "This is particularly true of the Sierra Nevada, where over half of the native amphibians are in decline or warrant some type of formal protection. Yet the federal government's new Framework Plan for managing Sierra national forests contains virtually no enforceable protections for amphibians."

The greatest threats to the mountain yellow-legged frog and the Yosemite toad are:

· Pesticides and other airborne chemical pollutants which drift from the Central Valley may play a role. Pollutants cause direct mortality and delay, alter, or reduce breeding and feeding activity and larval development. Pollutants also act as environmental stressors which render amphibians more susceptible to aquatic pathogens.
· Livestock grazing. Cattle and sheep remove wetland vegetation used by amphibians for cover and egg laying. Overgrazing also alters wetland hydrology, eliminating breeding habitat for the toad.
· Introduced fish species, primarily non-native trout, which may prey upon larval and juvenile frogs and toads. While toads can breed in fishless, ephemeral pools, trout have eliminated toads from many of the deeper permanent water bodies that provide refuge for toads during drought periods.
· Drought and ultraviolet radiation also are being studied as possible factors for the decline of the Yosemite toad, the yellow-legged frog, and other amphibians.

Photographs of the frog and toad as well as further information on both species are available on the CBD web site.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization founded in 1989, dedicated to preserving imperiled wildlife and their habitats. The Center's "Golden State Biodiversity Initiative" has successfully petitioned and litigated to place 76 California species under the protection of the Endangered Species Act since 1993. The Center has 5,000 members and has offices in Berkeley and San Diego, California; Silver City, New Mexico; and Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona.

The Pacific Rivers Council is a national conservation organization working to protect and restore rivers, their watersheds and native aquatic species. Pacific Rivers has offices in Eugene and Portland, Oregon; Berkeley, California; Polson, Montana; and Damascus, Virginia.

Previous litigation by Earthjustice on behalf of CBD and PRC resulted in protection for another native amphibian, the California red-legged frog. The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated 4.1 million acres throughout California for the red-legged frog on March 6, 2001.


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