Arroyo Toad

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In the mythologies of European cultures, toads have often been associated with witchcraft and impurity. In Shakespeare's Macbeth, witches mix toad into their potion; in Grimm's fairy tales, evildoers spew toads and snakes from their mouths when they speak. New World culture has often been kinder to the toad; in the legends of Mexico's Rarámuri, for example, Toad is the bringer of life-giving rain, having borrowed wings from the Bat to fly up to heaven and sing the rain down.

photo by Jim Rorabaugh

The southwestern arroyo toad, one of the "true toads,"is specialized for life in an unstable habitat. No more than three inches long, this small toad was once found throughout coastal rivers and streams in southern and central California, from Moterey to San Diego counties, as well as in Baja California. The toad hatches in a river or stream and begins to develop in water; as an adult, it lives on land, where it forages for insects (mostly ants) and digs burrows on sandy terraces.

But arroyo toad populations have suffered throughout the twentieth century as watersheds in southern California have been dammed and polluted by siltation from development and other activities. The toad's habitat has been degraded, fragmented and reduced by urban sprawl, dams, cattle grazing, mining and off-road vehicle use; it now survives only in 22 small, isolated headwaters. In addition, having lost over 80% of its habitat in Southern California and as populations dwindle, the toad has also become more vulnerable to other factors that reduce species, such as predation by introduced exotic species like bullfrogs, bullhead catfish, bass, green sunfish, and crayfish.


The Center for Biological Diversity has taken a number of legal actions on behalf of the critically imperiled arroyo toad. We brought about a landmark March, 2000 settlement with the U.S. Forest Service, which protected more than 50 endangered species on Southern California's four national forests, whose 6.1 million acres stretch from just north of the Mexican border to near Monterey. The settlement included an agreement for the Los Padres National Forest to close approximately 10% of its campgrounds to protect arroyo toad and California red-legged frog habitat.

Also, in March 2000, the Center and its allies filed suit against the Bureau of Land Management, charging that the agency has refused to reign in overgrazing on 11 million acres of southern California desert, pushing 24 endangered species toward extinction including the desert tortoise, Peninsular Ranges bighorn sheep, desert slender Salamander, and arroyo toad. And in June 2000, along with the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning the Environment, we filed suit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Newhall Corporation to stop the massive Westridge development project in the Santa Clara River valley, approximately 30 miles north of Los Angeles, which if it proceeds as planned will harm the unarmored three-spine stickleback, the southwestern Arroyo toad, the San Fernando Valley spineflower and other endangered species.

In March 2001, the Center won protection for the arroyo toad by convincing the BLM to close a sand and gravel mine in Whitewater Canyon, protecting one of the few remaining toad populations within the California Desert Conservation Area.

Courtesy of Dan Holland, Ph.D.

In accordance with a legal settlement obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity and Christians Caring for Creation, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service designated 182,360 acres of "critical habitat" for the endangered Arroyo southwestern toad in February of 2001.  Habitat protections were removed following a building industry lawsuit, but Center intervention in the case resulted in a new critical habitat decision in 2005.  Unfortunately, the Bush Administration excluded tens of thousands of acres falsely claiming habitat protections would result in economic harm, prompting a new August 2005 lawsuit by the Center and Christians Caring for Creation.

In 2005, the Center has worked to maintain Angeles National Forest closures to off-highway vehicles along Littlerock Creek and Santiago Creek that had been established as part of the four southern California Forests lawsuit settlement.  The Center also commented on a proposal to dredge a reservoir near designated Arroyo toad critical habitat in Littlerock Creek/Santiago Creek, and tracked housing development proposals along the Mojave River and Little Horsethief Creek adjacent to important toad habitat.  The Center has also worked to improve the Western Riverside Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan and other regional habitat conservation plans for the benefit of the species.

Conservationists and religious groups unite to protect species

In what the San Francisco Chronicle called "the most significant manifestation to date of a growing political phenomenon – the conjoining of Christians and secular environmentalists to 'save God's creatures,'" the Center for Biological Diversity and Christians Caring for Creation have established a close working relationship to advance endangered species conservation.

Founded in 1997, Christians Caring for Creation is a nationwide prayer network whose mission is to pray for and work for the protection and restoration of God's creation.

Christians Caring for Creation and the Center joined together to successfully sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to establish the largest ever Endangered Species Act critical habitat designation – 40,832 square miles (26,133,120 acres) – for the endangered spectacled and Steller's eiders sea ducks in northern Alaska in 2001.

Another lawsuit by the groups successfully compelled the agency to protect 55,408 acres of grasslands and coastal sage scrub in southern California as critical habitat for the San Bernardino kangaroo rat in Riverside and San Bernardino counties. The kangaroo rat is a beautiful, nine-inch-long kangaroo-like mouse which has declined by 95% due to dams, mining, and urban sprawl.

The groups have also joined in lawsuits to successfully protect critical habitat for several other species:

  • Kootenai River white sturgeon – the largest freshwater fish in North America evolved 400 million years ago in the Upper Columbia River basin and are critically endangered by dams.

  • The Alameda whipsnake - a slender black-and-yellow reptile which has declined because of urban sprawl and overgrazing in the East Bay hills of California.

  • The Zayante band-winged grasshopper – a spectacularly colored insect which lives only in the Santa Cruz Mountains of northern California and is threatened by urban sprawl.

  • The Morro shoulderband snail – a small land snail from the San Luis Obispo County sand dunes, a favorite site for luxury home development.

The Arroyo toad and Supreme Court Nominee Judge Roberts

Arroyo toads have drawn recent national attention with their provision of possible insight into the legal philosophy of President Bush’s Supreme Court nominee John Roberts.  Roberts referred to the “hapless toad” in a 2003 legal opinion against the species in a case widely regarded as indicative of his opinions against broad federal regulation of issues ranging from pollution control to civil rights.  Please see “Media Articles” side bar for newspaper stories on Judge Roberts and the Arroyo toad.

Center strives to stem global amphibian decline

The public is becoming increasingly aware of a world wide decline in amphibian populations and the Center for Biological Diversity has dedicated significant resources to limit the effects of this global tragedy. Please visit our Amphibians page for more information.

graphic Andrew Rodman ©2002
August 26, 2005
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