PROTECTION DENIED FOR ANOTHER ENDANGERED SIERRA AMPHIBIAN
CONTACT: Jeff Miller (Center for Biological
Diversity) (510) 845-4675
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE January 17, 2003
Today conservation groups filed notice of their intent to sue the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service ("FWS") to fight the Bush administration's determination that the Sierra Nevada population of the mountain yellow-legged frog (Rana muscosa) will not receive protection under the Endangered Species Act ("ESA"). The mountain yellow-legged frog, which inhabits high elevation lakes, ponds, and streams in the Sierra Nevada, has disappeared from at least 70 to 90 percent of its known historical locations. The FWS invoked a controversial loophole in the ESA in making a final determination on January 16 that the frog warrants listing as an endangered species, but that listing is "precluded" by higher priorities. The FWS made a similar "warranted but precluded" finding for the Yosemite toad (Bufo canorus) on December 10, 2002. Notice of intention to file suit in federal court over the "arbitrary and capricious" decision by the FWS was given by Earthjustice on behalf of the petitioners for both amphibian species, the Center for Biological Diversity and Pacific Rivers Council.
Center for Biological Diversity spokesperson Jeff Miller called the FWS decision "callous and illegal," noting that both the frog and the toad could go extinct while awaiting federal protective regulations. Miller called the warranted but precluded designation a "regulatory purgatory" for endangered species, noting the average length of time a species remains on the list before receiving ESA protection is about 17 years. "This maneuver is indicative of the Bush administration's disregard for imperiled wildlife and contempt for the Endangered Species Act," said Miller.
The FWS acknowledged the frog has disappeared from 70-90 percent of known historical locations in the Sierra Nevada and that many of the largest populations have completely crashed in recent years. The mountain yellow-legged frog is thought to be declining due to predation by introduced trout, habitat degradation caused by livestock grazing, and the impacts of drought and environmental changes caused by global warming. Disease has ravaged frog populations recently - factors such as pesticide drift into the Sierra Nevada, acid precipitation, and increased ultraviolet radiation as a result of ozone depletion likely render frogs much more susceptible to disease. Recent frog surveys in relatively pristine areas of the Sierra Nevada in the John Muir Wilderness and Kings Canyon National Park revealed an alarming extinction rate of over 40 percent in the last 5 to 7 years alone.
The Center for Biological Diversity and Pacific Rivers Council submitted formal petitions to list the mountain yellow-legged frog and Yosemite toad in March 2000 and subsequently filed suit in May 2001 to compel FWS to respond to the listing petitions, and in December 2001 the FWS was ordered by the Northern District Court to make final listing determinations for both species. Federal courts have repeatedly ruled that the FWS has illegally placed gravely imperiled species on the warranted but precluded list as a delay tactic to avoid ESA protection, and has overturned such determinations for species such as the bull trout and the Canada lynx.
The ESA allows the FWS to make a warranted but precluded determination only if it can demonstrate that it is making "expeditious progress" in listing higher priority species. However, every species listed under the Bush administration has been as a result of a citizen listing petition, lawsuit, or settlement agreement. The FWS has attempted to blame litigation and court orders to designate critical habitat as an excuse for delaying listing of vanishing species. This is a ruse, as the ESA clearly allows use of the warranted but precluded list only when other species listings are being made rapidly. It is patently false for the Bush administration, which has consistently fought against increasing the ESA listing budget and is purposely starving the endangered species listing program, to claim insufficient resources to list the mountain yellow-legged frog and Yosemite toad.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit
environmental organization dedicated to the protection of native species
and their habitats in the Western Hemisphere through science, education,
policy, and environmental law. Using the citizen listing provision of
the Endangered Species Act, listing petition and litigation efforts by
the Center have led to federal protection of 119 threatened and endangered
species and the conservation of more than 37 million acres of terrestrial
habitats and nearly 4,500 miles of stream and aquatic habitats. The Pacific
Rivers Council is a national conservation organization working to protect
and restore rivers, their watersheds and native aquatic species.