Nearly 2 million acres of Sierra Nevada becomes protected for rare California amphibians

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated 1.8 million acres throughout the Sierra Nevada mountains for several endangered amphibians including the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog, Yosemite toad and northern population of the mountain yellow-legged frog.

“This is an important step for saving the vanishing amphibians of the high Sierra Nevada, which have suffered massive declines in recent decades and disappeared from most of the Sierra lakes and streams where they once lived,” said the Center for Biological Diversity’s Jeff Miller, in a statement.

The Endangered Species Act is our best tool for preventing their extinction, and protecting some of the most important high-elevation amphibian habitat will give them a fighting chance at recovery.”

Sierra Nevada and mountain yellow-legged frogs have declined by about 90 percent throughout the Sierras due to habitat destruction and degradation, disease, predation by non-native trout, pesticides and climate change.

Half of Yosemite toad populations now gone

More than half of former Yosemite toad populations are now gone, including those in Yosemite National Park, where these toads were first discovered and given their name. Yosemite toads are threatened primarily by livestock grazing, climate change and pesticides.

Designating critical habitat identifies and protects the habitat necessary for the recovery of endangered species and ensures that federal agencies don’t take actions which degrade or destroy essential habitat.

The service designated 1,082,147 acres of critical habitat for the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog; 221,498 acres for the northern population of the mountain yellow-legged frog; and 750,926 acres for the Yosemite toad. There is some overlap in the habitat areas. Research indicates that protected species with designated critical habitat are twice as likely to be recovering as those without it.

“Yellow-legged frogs and Yosemite toads were a common sight in the high Sierras until fairly recently,” said Miller. “Their rapid declines are a warning of the failing health of our high Sierra ecosystems. Critical habitat will not only protect these amphibians but will also protect water bodies, riparian areas and wet meadows that provide fresh, clean water for many Californians and habitat for other species.”

The Center petitioned to protect mountain yellow-legged frogs in the Sierra Nevada under the Endangered Species Act in 2000.

Unchecked livestock grazing could hurt amphibians

The restrictions in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest is aimed at limiting unchecked livestock grazing and other activities on federal forest service lands.

The Forest Service had approved grazing on a series of allotments earlier this year, but had failed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that the protected frogs and toads weren’t jeopardized by the grazing, according to the release from the center.

The two arms of government are now in consultation with each other and grazing has been adjusted for the current season. Livestock has also been prohibited from some key aquatic areas.

Amphibians protected under Endangered Species Act

Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frogs and Yosemite toads occur at high elevations in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, generally ranging between 4,500 feet and 12,000 feet. Both species have suffered severe population declines and losses throughout their ranges, leading to Endangered Species Act protections in 2014.

Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frogs have suffered dramatic declines in range and numbers due to habitat destruction and degradation from grazing, disease, predation by nonnative trout, pesticides and climate change.

The musical mating calls of Yosemite toads were once a common pleasure for visitors to the High Sierra. But the toads have now disappeared from many areas and suffered severe population losses, including in Yosemite National Park, where they were first discovered and given their name.

Yosemite toads are threatened primarily by livestock grazing, climate change and pesticides. Both species, when abundant, play a vital role in energy and nutrient cycling for properly functioning meadows, ponds and adjacent forest ecosystems.

According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, livestock grazing is a threat to both species and may also limit their recovery.

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Peg Fong is also in recovery from newspapers

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