The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals today ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to comply with its legal obligation under the Endangered Species Act to consider whether Sierra Nevada mountain yellow-legged frogs deserve listing as protected species.
The mountain yellow-legged frog was historically the most abundant frog in the Sierra Nevada, distributed widely in high elevation lakes and streams from Plumas to Tulare Counties. Recent surveys have found that the species has disappeared from 70 to 90 percent of its former habitat. Remaining frog populations are widely scattered and consist of few breeding adults. What was thought to be one of the largest remaining populations, containing 2000 adult frogs as recently as 1996, has collapsed to only two frogs in a 1999 survey.
Today's decision is just the latest chapter in the long and winding road to get protection for this native Sierra amphibian.
On January 16, 2003, after being sued by conservation groups, the Service found that the species deserved listing as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act, but that listing was "precluded" because the Service was too busy doing work with other species.
"The Fish and Wildlife Service basically agreed the yellow-legged frog was in serious trouble and needed to go to the emergency room, but then never let it in the hospital," said Michael Sherwood, an attorney for Earthjustice who brought the case to the Ninth Circuit on behalf of conservation groups. "This has been the fate of numerous imperiled species under the Bush administration. But today the court told the Service it needs to reconsider that decision. We hope that this time the Service will take the opportunity to do the right thing and give this species the legal protection it so desperately needs."
"We're on the brink of losing what were once the most common amphibians in the High Sierra," said Jeff Miller, spokesman for the Center for Biological Diversity. "The Mountain yellow-legged frog clearly warrants immediate listing as endangered. Now the Fish and Wildlife Service must end their delay tactics."
"The demise of amphibians is just one symptom of the degradation of Sierra Nevada watersheds," said Deanna Spooner of the Pacific Rivers Council. "More than half of the native amphibians supported by Sierra Nevada watersheds are in serious decline, and in need of formal protection. These same watersheds also are the foundation of California's drinking water supply and economic life-blood. It's in our own best interest to protect these species and their habitat."
Michael Sherwood, Earthjustice, (510) 550-6725
Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 499-9185 cell
Deanna Spooner, Pacific Rivers Council, (541) 554-5940 cell
Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.