Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, October 7, 2014

Contact: Collette Adkins Giese, (651) 955-3821

Endangered Species Act Protection Sought for 16 Rare Amphibians and Reptiles in California

SACRAMENTO, Calif. The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for failing to decide whether 16 increasingly rare amphibians and reptiles in California warrant consideration for Endangered Species Act protection. The Center first petitioned for these species — the western pond turtle, southern rubber boa, western spadefoot, foothill yellow-legged frog, Colorado Desert fringe-toed lizard, sandstone night lizard and nine salamanders — in July 2012 because habitat loss and other factors are threatening them with extinction.

Western spadefoot toad
Western spadefoot toad photo by James Bettaso, USFWS. Photos are available for media use.

“California is home to some of the country’s most fascinating scaly and slimy creatures,” said Collette Adkins Giese, a Center biologist and lawyer focused on protecting amphibians and reptiles. “Although few people have heard of, let alone seen, a relictual slender salamander or sandstone night lizard, these unique species are an important part of the web of life that makes California unique. With the help of the Endangered Species Act, we can do what’s necessary to save these rare amphibians and reptiles from extinction.”

Because of unsustainable logging practices, toxic pesticides, climate change and other human causes, nearly one in four amphibians and reptiles is at risk of dying out, scientists say. In fact, although they’ve been around for hundreds of millions of years and survived every major extinction period, now, due largely to human impacts, amphibians and reptiles are dying off at up to 10,000 times the historic extinction rate. This loss is alarming because they play important roles as predators and prey in their ecosystems and are valuable indicators of environmental health.

“There’s broad scientific consensus that turtles, snakes, frogs, lizards and salamanders face a profound, human-driven extinction crisis that requires swift action,” said Adkins Giese. “The Endangered Species Act has a nearly perfect record of stopping animals from going extinct — it’s hands-down our best tool for saving these guys.”

The Center was joined in its petition for these 16 species and other amphibians and reptiles by several renowned scientists and herpetologists, including E.O. Wilson, Thomas Lovejoy and Michael Lannoo. More than 200 scientists sent a letter asking the Service to review the status of the petitioned animals.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is required to make an initial finding within 90 days of receiving a petition about whether protections may be warranted. But more than two years later, the agency has not acted. The 90-day finding is the first in a series of required decisions and simply requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to determine whether the petition presents sufficient information to warrant further consideration, a process that requires few agency resources.

View an interactive state-by-state map showing where the petitioned species live and download photos for media use.

Species Highlights

Western Spadefoot Toads (California): These 2-inch-long, stout-looking little toads are known for their purr-like trill, their spade-like adaptation for digging on each hind foot, and for their unusual ability to accelerate metamorphosis when shallow breeding pools start to dry up. But even with those remarkable adaptations, the western spadefoot has been no match for the march of development and habitat reduction. Since the 1950s the animals have lost more than 80 percent of their preferred grassland and alluvial fan habitats. The toads, which are completely terrestrial except when breeding, depend on the existence of vernal rain pools and slow-moving streams, both of which have declined across their range due to urban development and agricultural practices. Historically known to occur in the lowlands of Southern California, from south of the San Francisco Bay area to northern Baja California, they are now listed as a “species of special concern” in California, a status that recognizes their dramatic decline but fails to afford them any legal protection. Already they are thought to be extirpated throughout much of their lowland Southern California range.

Colorado Desert Fringe-toed Lizards (California): These striking little camouflaged lizards, known only to desert sites in southeastern California and northeastern Baja, have long made their homes in sparsely vegetated areas of windblown sand. Less than 5 inches long, with their tails making up half their length, these extremely rare lizards are highly adapted to the harsh desert environment. The fringe of scales on the sides of their toes helps them run across loose sand without sinking; tightly overlapping eyelids, earflaps and valve-like nostrils protect them from the constantly blowing sand. Their fragile habitat is under ongoing threat from development and off-road vehicles. The lizard is a Bureau of Land Management sensitive species in California and a state “special concern” species — designations that reflect the lizards’ rarity but offer no legal protection for them or their habitat. Despite their declining population, lizards may still be taken for personal collections.

Kern Canyon Slender Salamanders (California): These 5-inch-long, brown salamanders with black sides and striking bronze and red patches on their backs live only in California’s lower Kern River Canyon. Their restricted range, coupled with ongoing threats of habitat destruction and degradation, leaves them extremely vulnerable to extinction. Known to be uncommon across their range and limited to small, isolated populations, these rare salamanders favor north-facing slopes and small, wooded tributary canyons. Those habitats provide periods of moisture and high humidity that allow the salamanders to emerge from their underground hideouts to forage among leaf debris, bark and loose rocks for a range of food that includes spiders, mites, earthworms and snails. Although nearly all their known populations occur on public lands administered by the Sequoia National Forest, they continue to be threatened by habitat destruction and degradation caused by cattle grazing, logging, mining, highway construction, hydroelectric development and firewood collecting.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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