Yosemite toad habitat, © Pamela Flick/Defenders

High Sierra Amphibians Slated for Protections

Pamela Flick, California Representative

Good news! Three rare amphibians in the Sierra Nevada are set to hop onto the list of endangered species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in late April that the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog (Rana sierrae) and northern distinct population segment of mountain yellow-legged frog (Rana muscosa) have been proposed for endangered species status, while the Yosemite toad (Anaxyrus canorus) may receive threatened species classification. More than two million acres of critical habitat may also be designated to help protect these species in their high elevation territory.

Mountain yellow-legged frog (©Jason King/USFS)

Mountain yellow-legged frog (©Jason King/USFS)

Until recently, the yellow-legged frogs in the Sierra Nevada were believed to be the same species, but they actually took different genetic roads around 2.2 million years ago. These species were historically described as extremely abundant, but today are absent from more than 92 percent of their historic range. The Yosemite toad is currently found in less than half of its former territory.

A majority of the high elevation habitat for these frogs and toads – from 4,500 to 12,000 feet above sea level – is found on public land managed by the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service. While these are both federal agencies, their management regimes are quite different. The National Park Service has a robust conservation mission and as such, national park lands have much stronger protections than national forests, where under their multiple use mandate, activities such as timber harvesting, livestock grazing and off-road vehicle use can destroy important habitat. Not surprisingly, populations of these Sierran amphibians have persisted in greater numbers and distribution in the more protected national parks compared to the surrounding lands managed by the Forest Service.

So why are these once common and widespread frogs and toads now dangling so precariously on the edge of extinction? A wide variety of factors have contributed to their decline. As with so many species disappearing around the world, habitat loss and fragmentation are key threats to wildlife. Dams and water diversions, road building, timber harvest and recreational use all lead to loss of habitat as well. Climate change and long-term drought also threaten these highly water-dependent species.

Grazing livestock damage these amphibians'  vital habitat. (©Pam Flick/Defenders of Wildlife)

Grazing livestock damage these amphibians’ vital habitat. (©Pam Flick/Defenders of Wildlife)

We also lose individual frogs and toads due to predation; non-native bullfrogs eat them, as do fish. This can become a bigger problem when trout are intentionally stocked in historically fishless high elevation lakes and streams, introducing more predators to an area where frogs and toads have had few in the past. Another key threat is disease, including the chytrid fungus, Batrachochuytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), which has been strongly associated with dramatic amphibian declines worldwide.

The Yosemite toad has been hit especially hard by more than a century of unsustainable livestock grazing practices. The high elevation meadows and streamside systems that these toads prefer are extremely sensitive to disturbance. Livestock often congregate in and near sensitive water sources, trampling stream banks and causing wet meadows to lose water critical to the toad’s survival. Approximately one-third of all known Yosemite toad habitat is within active Forest Service grazing areas. Despite the fact that there has been a reduction of livestock allowed in these areas, the damage has been done, and the meadows continue to suffer from eroded channels, bare patches from heavy trampling and grazing, altered plant composition and reduced plant production.

Yosemite toad (©Pam Flick/Defenders of Wildlife)

Yosemite toad (©Pam Flick/Defenders of Wildlife)

Designation of more than two million acres of critical habitat for these frogs and toads will go a long way toward protecting them. This designation will include lands and waters essential to the conservation of the species and may require special management considerations or protection. But it’s important to note that critical habitat only means that we have to ensure actions taken by federal agencies will not destroy key habitat needed by these species. The designation does not affect land ownership, and continued grazing and habitat development could continue to be an obstacle to these species’ recovery.

Defenders strongly supports the proposed protections for these rapidly declining amphibian species to pull them back from the brink of extinction. We have been leaders in helping to revise national forest plans in the Sierra Nevada to better account for the role of wildlife, and our collaborative work on the Dinkey Landscape Restoration Project on the Sierra National Forest includes some of the lands proposed as critical habitat. We hope that by making their native range a safer place to live, we’ll be helping the Yosemite toad and yellow-legged frogs edge closer to recovery.

8 Responses to “High Sierra Amphibians Slated for Protections”

  1. olimpia marina

    No human has the right to interfere or harm animals…..Those who do ,should be charged by no corrupt justice system…..including police…Heawy charges should apply….It has been going alraedy for too long ENOUGH….

  2. margaret Gottshall

    This is good news that they are going to get the pertection they need

  3. Trish

    These protections come not a moment too soon, given the 17% of normal snowpack in the Sierras this year. Hopefully the designation will come with money to effect some of the needed restorations.

  4. Jim

    I can`t believe what I am reading. 2.1 million acres to be closed to the public because a frog and a toad have a virus. Call me Stupid but I did not know that frogs and toads, Regardless of how many of the little buggers there are need 2.1 MILLION ACRES of prime People Habitat to somehow rid themselves of a virus so they can live to be old and grey at the expense or extermination of animals that already live there and in the case of Humans play there. This closing of land is wrong. The virus will still be there after the animals are murdered and the people are forced out. The buffalo who`s numbers were in the millions didn`t get 2.1 million acres !!! Regulators let`s ride !! Uncle Sam is on Dope !! This is just what the Obama Administration has said they were planning to do and that is to close and deny access to lands in the western United States. Ask yourself why aren’t there any cases of good ol Uncle Sam steeping in and coming to the rescue of any endangered species or any animal in the Eastern United States. Every Hunter, Hiker, Fisherman, Nature Lover, Off Roader, Explorer, Miner, Logger, Birdwatcher or concerned citizen needs to take it upon themselves to do whatever it takes to find out and expose the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Think about how many times has our government has told the truth about anything !! Make haste my friends. Time is not on our side. These lands belong to the American People and they must never be taken away by a President that was not even born in America !!

  5. Todd Rockey

    I love animals they taste great. Give me back my land!!!

  6. AD Bolt

    what apecies of frog would lkely co-exist whith another frof in a sea-leval backyard ‘goldfish with one orinary frog’ pond?

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