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For Immediate Release, July 15, 2009

Contacts:  Karen Schambach, Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation and PEER, (530) 333-2545
Lisa Belenky, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 385-5694

Reward Offered for Off-road Vandals Who Trashed Meadow

SACRAMENTO, Calif.— Conservationists are offering a reward for information leading to the identification and conviction of dirt bikers who damaged a beautiful mountain meadow that is vital habitat for the Yosemite toad, a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act.  The damage also compromises an expensive and important five-year research study. 

“This is not recreation; this is inexcusable vandalism,” said Karen Schambach, California coordinator for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). “The perpetrators need to be held accountable, and the message needs to get out that this kind of activity will not be tolerated.”

The Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation, PEER, and the Center for Biological Diversity are offering a $1,500 reward for information leading to the identification and conviction of the off-roaders who damaged the meadow, called Groundhog Meadow. It is a violation of federal regulations to operate a vehicle in a manner that causes resource damage. Further, vehicles are not allowed to drive off routes specifically designated for their use.

 “Wanton damage to the Yosemite toad and Groundhog Meadow from these irresponsible individuals is appalling,” said Lisa Belenky, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This further highlights the need for Endangered Species Act protections for the Yosemite toad, and the need for additional limits on motorized access to sensitive riparian areas in the Sierra Nevada.”

On June 24, a Forest Service research team arrived at Groundhog Meadow near Herring Creek and saw a blue pickup truck being loaded with motorcycles and beating a hasty retreat. The researchers walked into the study area to find it badly ripped up by motorcycle tires.  Groundhog Meadow is one of several included in a comprehensive study of amphibian populations in the Sierra Nevada. Other study sites are located in the Sierra National Forest and in Yosemite National Park. The research project is a collaborative effort between scientists from the Forest Service Pacific Southwest Sierra Nevada Research Center, the University of California at Berkeley, and Yosemite National Park. By altering the study area, the damage seriously compromises the five-year study — as well as hopes that the meadow will eventually recover.

The colorful Yosemite toad was once one of the most common high-elevation amphibians. Active for only four to five months per year, it has just a few months in which to reproduce and eat enough to survive the winter hibernating under the snow. Its numbers have declined precipitously throughout the Sierra Nevada, and in 2002 it was made a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act in response to a listing petition by the Center for Biological Diversity and others.

The Forest Service is looking for those who are responsible for this incident so that restitution can be made. If anyone has information about this or any similar incident, they are asked to contact the California Fish and Game Environmental Crime Hotline at 1-888-334-2258 or the Stanislaus National Forest at (209) 532-3671. Anyone wanting to contribute additional reward money is asked to call Karen Schambach at (530) 333-2545.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with more than 225,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild lands.

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