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Chiricahua leopard frog
Digital Journal, March 16, 2011

‘Critical habitat’ of 11,000 acres proposed for rare leopard frog
By Lynn Herrmann

Washington - The rare and threatened Chiricahua leopard frog of the southwestern US received an added gift this week in its fight against extinction, a proposed designation of more than 11,000 acres of critical habitat situated in Arizona and New Mexico.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed 11,136 acres located in Apache, Cochise, Gila, Graham, Greenlee, Pima, Santa Cruz, and Yavapai counties in Arizona, as well as Catron, Hidalgo, Grant, Sierra, and Socorro counties in New Mexico be designated as critical habitat (pdf) for the rare frog,.

“Protecting critical habitat is the most powerful tool this country has for saving endangered plants and animals, so we’re thrilled the Chiricahua leopard frog is finally getting the habitat protection it needs to survive,” said Tierra Curry, a Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) biologist, according to a news release.

Among the many threats faced by the rare frog are predators such as nonnative bullfrogs and crayfish, as well as a fungal disease. Livestock grazing, stream diversions, mining, groundwater pumping, water pollution, climate change, woodcutting, urban and agricultural encroachment, and loss of natural fire regimes have all contributed to its natural habitat and range degradation.

Chiricahua leopard frogs, known by a unique call similar to a snore lasting one to two seconds, reach two to five inches in length as adults. It was once found in more than 400 aquatic locales throughout the southwestern US, but is now confined to fewer than 80 of these sites, less than 20 percent of its historic range.

Northern populations of the frog are found in east-central Arizona’s Mogollon Rim region eastward to the eastern bajada of New Mexico’s Black Range. Physical barriers separate it from the frog’s southern populations.

The frog’s range also extends into parts of northern Mexico, including northeastern Sonora and Chihuahua’s northwestern and west-central parts of the Sierra Madre Occidental.

The CBD notes that plants and animals with protected critical habitat designation shift the odds to their favor, being more than twice as likely to make a recovery than those not given the protection.

“The status of the Chiricahua leopard frog in Arizona has improved since it was protected under the Endangered Species Act, and the protection of its critical habitat will make a big difference to its recovery,” Curry added in the press release.

Chiricahua leopard frogs experience a very high mortality rate (greater than 90 percent) during their egg and early tadpole stages and a high mortality when turning from a tadpole into a juvenile frog. Adults generally experience low mortality rates.

The proposed critical habitat designation comes after a lengthy legal process. The CBD filed suit against the USFWS in 1999 and in 2001 for its delays in granting Endangered Species Act protection for the frog. The frog was granted court-ordered protection in 2002.

CBD is part of a group that devised a federal recovery plan for the frog in 2007. By August, 2010, 10,000 frogs raised in captivity were reintroduced into Arizona ponds.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton