THE AMPHIBIAN AND REPTILE EXTINCTION CRISIS
Amphibians and reptiles are amazing creatures with clever adaptations that have allowed them to brave the millennia. Consider the Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard's scaly hind toes, which resemble snowshoes and keep the lizard from sinking into sand as it sprints away from predators; or the hellbender’s loose frilly skin that helps it breathe underwater. Such diversity is vital to functioning ecosystems and enriches humankind's enjoyment of the natural world.
But today herpetofauna are among the most imperiled species on Earth. Ubiquitous toxins, global warming, nonnative predators, overcollection, habitat destruction and disease are key factors leading to their demise. Globally, about 20 percent of evaluated reptiles are threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List. The situation is particularly dire for turtles—approximately 61 percent of the world’s turtles are threatened or already extinct.
The situation is even worse for amphibians. More than 41 percent of the world's amphibians are at risk of dying out. These species are slipping away faster than we can study them.
The Center outdid itself in protecting these amazing creatures in 2012, when we made the biggest-ever move to protect amphibians and reptiles in the United States, filing a mega-petition requesting Endangered Species Action protection for 53 amphibians and reptiles in 45 states. The petition, filed with E.O. Wilson, Thomas Lovejoy and other scientists, asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect six turtles, seven snakes, two toads, four frogs, 10 lizards and 24 salamanders under the Act. Since filing the petition, the Center has worked diligently to ensure these reptiles and amphibians receive federal protections before it's too late.
Almost since our inception, the Center has worked to protect reptiles and amphibians. By filing petitions that urge federal wildlife agencies to provide Endangered Species Act protection for imperiled herps — and following up with lawsuits when necessary — the Center has obtained federal safeguards and critical habitat for dozens of amphibians and reptiles, from the Chiricahua leopard frog to the Jollyville Plateau salamander to the eastern massasauga rattlesnake. To make the most of these federal protections, the Center has also obtained recovery plans — essential “roadmaps to recovery” — for species like the California tiger salamander and the dusky gopher frog.
Stemming the herpetofauna extinction crisis means attacking it on every front; the Center's conservation efforts are almost as diverse as the animals we're working to protect. To reduce impacts of toxic pesticides on herps like the California red-legged frog, the Center secured settlements with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Fish and Wildlife Service that prohibit the use of dozens of toxic pesticides near core habitats and require analysis of the impacts of certain pesticides on endangered species. Our campaign for fish-stocking reform aims to protect the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog and other amphibians from nonnative trout, while litigation against the Forest Service has helped curb grazing-driven habitat destruction for the Oregon spotted frog, Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog and Yosemite toad.
The Center also fights to protect native herpetofauna from the harmful impacts of nonnative species. To protect salamanders in the United States, the Center secured an import ban on exotic salamanders that carry a deadly pathogen. And in California we’re working to stop the importation of bullfrogs, an invasive species that preys on, competes with, and spreads disease to native amphibians and other wildlife.
While threats like our warming climate require efforts across the globe, threats like human persecution can be addressed by working at the level of communities or regions. For example, the eastern diamondback rattlesnake is facing population declines due in part to “rattlesnake roundups,” which are contests calling for hunters to collect (and later kill) as many snakes as they can in a year. Through our campaign to outlaw rattlesnake roundups, the Center has convinced several local communities to turn these gruesome contests into wildlife-appreciation festivals and continues to put the pressure on remaining roundups to follow suit. We also played a key role in Texas's decision to propose a rule banning wildlife “gassing” — a harmful and indiscriminate form of take that threatens rattlesnakes, frogs and many other burrowing species — and we're fighting to make that proposal a reality.
Freshwater turtles are also threatened by human persecution, namely by overcollection for the food and pet trades. Our successful ongoing campaign on behalf of the nation's turtles has prompted several states to regulate turtle trapping and led to restrictions on the international turtle trade, important steps toward reversing their alarming declines.Though amphibians and reptiles represent some of the most rapidly disappearing species on Earth, they've long been underrepresented when it comes to wildlife protection. So in 2010 the Center made certain that animals like the California tiger salamander have their very own champion by hiring the nation's first full-time attorney dedicated to conserving herpetofauna. Today the Center has two full-time staff lawyers dedicated to protecting rare reptiles and amphibians, from the longleaf-pine flatwoods of the Southeast to the wetlands of the Pacific Northwest and everywhere in between.