Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, June 30, 2015

Contact: Jenny Loda, (510) 844-7136 ext. 336;

Four Rare Amphibians in California Move Closer to Endangered Species Act Protection

SACRAMENTO, Calif. In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced that four increasingly rare amphibians in California may qualify for Endangered Species Act protection. The Center first petitioned for these species — western spadefoot toad, foothill yellow-legged frog, Kern Canyon slender salamander and relictual slender salamander — in July 2012 because habitat loss and other factors are threatening them with extinction.

“California is home to some of the country’s most fascinating toads, frogs and salamanders,” said Jenny Loda, a Center biologist and lawyer who works to protect amphibians and reptiles. “Although few people have heard of, let alone seen, a relictual slender salamander, these unique animals 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 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 frogs, toads and salamanders face a profound, human-driven extinction crisis that requires swift action,” said Loda. “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 four species and dozens of 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.

Today’s “90-day finding” is the first in a series of required decisions on the petition and simply required the Fish and Wildlife Service to determine whether the petition presents sufficient information to warrant further consideration, a process that requires few agency resources. The next step is a full status review of the species by the Fish and Wildlife Service. The Service also announced today that the petition did not present substantial information that listing of the California giant salamander may be warranted.

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.

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.

Foothill Yellow-legged Frogs (California, Oregon): The range of the foothill yellow-legged frog includes Pacific drainages from the upper reaches of the Willamette River system, Oregon, south to the Upper San Gabriel River, Los Angeles County, California. The frog has disappeared from many portions of its historical range, especially in southern California, where it has been extirpated from Santa Barbara County to San Diego County, and has not been seen in or south of the Transverse Ranges since 1977 despite repeated searches. Moreover, it is now rare or absent through the entire western half of the Oregon range. The frog is threatened by habitat destruction for dams, livestock grazing, mining, logging and roads, as well as pesticides and non-native predators like bullfrogs, bass and even feral pigs. The foothill yellow-legged frog is considered “vulnerable” in Oregon and it is a California Species of Special Concern.  But the frog is not state protected in either state and therefore receives no formal protection. 

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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