FOR SIERRA AMPHIBIAN PROTECTION
May 31, 2001
Laura Hoehn, Earthjustice, (415) 627-6725
Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 841-0812
David Bayles, Pacific Rivers Council, (541) 345-0119
More Information: Yosemite Toad,
Mountain Yellow-legged Frog,
SAN FRANCISCO - On
behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity and Pacific Rivers Council,
Earthjustice filed a lawsuit today in Federal District Court against the
U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service for stalling Endangered Species Act protection
for two Sierra Nevada amphibian species. The Fish and Wildlife Service
has illegally delayed making a decision on petitions to list the Yosemite
Toad and the Sierra Nevada population of the mountain yellow-legged frog.
Over a year ago, CBD and PRC submitted petitions documenting significant
and alarming declines in the range and abundance of both species. On October
5, 2000, the Service responded with a finding that the listing of both
amphibians may be warranted. Since then, however, FWS has been silent,
missing its final statutory deadlines for issuing a decision. The agency
was required to a 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.
"The Fish and
Wildlife Service's delay in protecting the frog and the toad under the
Endangered Species Act is illegal, and potentially dangerous for these
declining species," said Laura Hoehn, lead attorney for Earthjustice.
"Congress built hard deadlines into the Act to protect species from
this kind of agency paralysis. Inaction may lead to extinction."
"We're on the
brink of losing what were once the two most common amphibians in the High
Sierra," said Jeff Miller, spokesman for the Center for Biological
Diversity. "The Yosemite toad and mountain yellow-legged frog are
rapidly disappearing from the Sierra Nevada. Both species clearly warrant
immediate listing as endangered."
The mountain yellow-legged
frog was historically the most abundant frog in the Sierra Nevada, distributed
widely in high elevation lakes and streams from Plumas to Tulare Counties.
Recent surveys have found that the species has disappeared from 70 to
90 percent of its former habitat. Remaining frog populations are widely
scattered and consist of few breeding adults. What was thought to be one
of the largest remaining populations, containing 2000 adult frogs as recently
as 1996, has collapsed to only two frogs in a 1999 survey.
The Yosemite toad
was once common in the high country of the central Sierra Nevada from
Fresno to Alpine Counties. As with the frog, recent surveys reveal that
the Yosemite toad has disappeared from a majority of its historic breeding
sites. Declines have been especially alarming in Yosemite National Park,
thought to be the species' most pristine and protected stronghold. Both
species have been adversely impacted by introduced fish species, which
prey on larval and juvenile frogs and toads, while their habitat has been
degraded by pesticide pollution, cattle grazing, pathogens, and ozone
"The demise of
amphibians is one symptom of the degradation of Sierra Nevada watersheds,"
said David Bayles, conservation director for PRC. "More than half
of the native amphibians in Sierra Nevada watersheds are in serious decline,
and in need of formal protection. These same watersheds are also the foundation
of California's drinking water supply and economic life-blood. It's in
our own best interest to protect these species and their habitat."
CBD's Miller agreed.
"The disappearance of the frog and toad is part of a global pattern
of amphibian decline. This is disturbing because the health of amphibian
populations is an indicator of the health of the aquatic ecosystems and
atmospheric conditions that sustain us."