Once considered a common western garden amphibian, the large, warty boreal toad has recently experienced dramatic population declines, suffering across its U.S. range from threats like habitat destruction by livestock, pesticides and other pollutants, and predation by introduced species. The toad's plight is especially dire in the southern Rocky Mountains, where a global amphibian disease caused by chytrid fungus has wiped out most of the toad's remaining populations. The fatal disease can cause reddened and sloughed skin, hind-limb convulsions, ulcers or hemorrhaging, and respiratory and nervous-system problems — and it's responsible for the decline of about 200 amphibian species around the world.

To reverse the boreal toad's disastrous population declines, the Center is working to secure its federal protection. In 1993, the Biodiversity Legal Foundation (later incorporated into the Center) petitioned to list the southern Rockies population under the Endangered Species Act — but rather than protect the toad, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service merely placed it on the “candidate list,” after which the Bush administration concluded that southern Rockies boreal toads weren't “significant” enough to warrant even candidate status (in part because they appeared genetically similar to other U.S. boreal toad populations).

Since then, two genetic studies have proven that boreal toads in the southern Rockies are part of an evolutionarily significant “clade” including boreal toads in Utah, northeastern Nevada and southern Idaho. The Center submitted a second petition to list the boreal toad in May 2011, which paid off the next year when the Fish and Wildlife Service determined that boreal toads in the southern Rocky Mountains, Utah, southern Idaho and northeastern Nevada might qualify for Endangered Species Act protection. When the Service failed to protect the toads, we filed a notice of intent to sue in early 2013 — and the same year we reached a settlement with the agency giving it four years to consider protection.

Boreal toad photo courtesy Flickr Creative Commons, J.N. Stewart