FEDS ACKNOWLEDGE SIERRA AMPHIBIAN IS ENDANGERED,
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE December 10, 2002
The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service ("Service") published a decision today to delay Endangered Species Act ("ESA") protection for the Yosemite toad (Bufo canorus), an imperiled amphibian inhabiting high elevation lakes and meadows in the central Sierra Nevada. Conservation groups had petitioned to list the toad under the ESA in March of 2000. The Service invoked a controversial loophole in the ESA, declaring that the toad warrants listing as an endangered species, but that the Service will not issue a listing proposal because it is making "expeditious progress" on "higher priority" listings. Instead, the species will be placed on the "warranted-but-precluded" list.
Center for Biological Diversity spokesperson Jeff Miller called the decision to delay protection "illegal" and "a recipe for extinction," noting the Yosemite toad had already been eliminated from well over half of its historical range in the central Sierra Nevada by the early 1990s. "The Yosemite toad cannot afford any further illegal delay in protection or recovery efforts," said Miller. "We're in danger of losing what was once a common high Sierra amphibian."
The Service acknowledged the species has disappeared from half to two-thirds of known historical locations surveyed and that many known large populations of toads have recently crashed by up to 99% or disappeared completely. Nonetheless, they concluded that "the overall magnitude of threats to the Yosemite toad is moderate, and that the overall immediacy of these threats is non-imminent." Imperiled species placed on the warranted-but-precluded list receive no legal protection, nor is there any limit on how long a species may be left on the list. There are currently 25 species on the warranted-but-precluded list, and the average length of time a species remains on the list before receiving ESA protection is about 17 years.
"The Yosemite toad and other species in need of immediate protection are being sentenced to extinction through inaction," said Deanna Spooner, of the Pacific Rivers Council. "The Bush administration is intent on dismantling the Endangered Species Act and is subverting its intent through administrative delay and by deliberately under-funding the budget for listing species."
"The Bush administration has a conscious policy to deny listing to endangered species unless ordered to do so by a court," said Miller. "Not only did we have to sue the Service to force this finding, but the listing determination is one year late. The judge gave the Service an extra year to complete it because of claims of time constraints. They have had plenty of time, this is nothing more than an attempt to avoiding complying with the law. Trying to avoid listing with illegal findings such as this one for the Yosemite toad will just land them back in court."
The Center for Biological Diversity and Pacific Rivers Council submitted a formal petition to list the Yosemite toad under the ESA on March 6, 2000. In October 2000 the Service issued a formal finding that the petition presented substantial information indicating that listing the toad under the ESA may be warranted. The conservation organizations filed a lawsuit in May 2001 to compel the Service to respond to the petition with a listing determination for the species. In December 2001, the Service was ordered by the Northern District U. S. District Court to make a final listing determination by November 30, 2002.
The Yosemite toad is found in the central Sierra Nevada at high elevations, typically between 8,000 and 10,000 feet, and was historically quite common in wet meadows, streams and lakes of the alpine country of the central Sierra Nevada, from Fresno to Alpine Counties. The listing petition for the Yosemite toad documented a significant and alarming decline in the range and abundance of the species. Several surveys in the early 1990s determined that the species had been eliminated from about 50 to 69 percent of known historical sites. Declines of the toad have been especially alarming in Yosemite National Park, with recent studies at Tioga Pass documenting wholesale population crashes.
The greatest threats to the Yosemite toad and its habitat are adverse impacts from airborne chemical pollutants, introduced fish, livestock grazing, and disease. Recent research has linked pesticides which drift from agricultural areas in the Central Valley and other airborne chemical pollutants to adverse impacts to native amphibians in the Sierra Nevada, such as the California red-legged frog, mountain yellow-legged frog, and foothill yellow-legged frog. Pollutants cause direct mortality of amphibians, can delay, alter, or reduce breeding and feeding activity and larval development, and also act as environmental stressors which render amphibians more susceptible to disease.
Introduced fish species, primarily non-native trout which are stocked in many high-elevation Sierra lakes by the California Department of Fish and Game, prey upon larval and juvenile toads. While toads can breed in fishless ephemeral pools, trout have eliminated the species from many of the deeper permanent water bodies that provide refuge during drought periods. Overgrazing by livestock removes wetland vegetation used by amphibians for cover and egg laying, and also alters wetland hydrology, eliminating breeding habitat for the toad. Toad habitat has also been degraded and reduced by sedimentation from timber harvest and roads, as well as encroachment of wet meadows by conifers due to fire suppression. Drought and ultraviolet radiation exacerbated by climate change also are being studied as possible factors for the alarming declines of the Yosemite toad and other Sierra amphibians.
Federal courts have repeatedly ruled that the Service has illegally placed gravely imperiled species on the warranted-but-precluded list as a delay tactic to avoid ESA protection. Service decisions to place species such as the bull trout and Canada lynx on the warranted-but-precluded list were overturned by federal judges. The Center for Biological Diversity and Pacific Rivers Council will file suit over this delay in protection for the Yosemite toad as well.
The ESA allows the Service to place a species on the
warranted-but-precluded list only if it can demonstrate that it is working
on the listing of higher priority species and that it is making "expeditious
progress" in listing other species. However, every species listed
under the Bush administration has been as a result of a citizen listing
petition followed up by a lawsuit or settlement agreement. The Bush administration
fought against increasing the ESA listing budget in FY2002 and refused
to ask for more listing money in its supplemental appropriation request
to Congress, purposefully starving the endangered species listing program.
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 petition 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 streams and aquatic habitats. The Pacific Rivers Council is a national conservation organization working to protect and restore rivers, their watersheds and native aquatic species.
Photographs of the Yosemite toad as well as further information on the species is available on the CBD web site at http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/swcbd/species/herps/mylf.html and the Pacific Rivers Council web site at http://www.pacrivers.org