Saving the Sierra Nevada’s Yellow-Legged Frog

Earthjustice litigation led to federal protections for a severely endangered frog in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains.

Case Overview

California’s high Sierra mountains certainly appear wild and pristine, but a closer look reveals dramatic shifts due to human encroachment and resulting impacts on the region’s watersheds.

The yellow-legged frog is one such harbinger of change. 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. But some surveys have found that the species has disappeared from 70 to 90 percent of its former habitat.

Earthjustice sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to force the agency to pay attention to this precipitous decline. Fortunately, the agency found that the yellow-legged frog indeed warrants protections as an endangered species. Unfortunately, the agency said it was too busy with other projects to act on its own findings.

Earthjustice again sued and a federal appeals court ordered the government to establish protections. In 2013, federal Endangered Species Act safeguards were issued, and the mountain yellow-legged frog is now a protected species.

Mountain yellow-legged frog.
The mountain yellow-legged frog has disappeared from 70 to 90 percent of its former habitat. (Adam Backlin / U.S. Geological Survey)

Case Updates

October 18, 2006 Press Release: Victory

Sierra Frog May Get Endangered Species Protections

Ninth Circuit tells Fish and Wildlife Service to rethink its decision

October 18, 2006 document

Mountan Yellow Legged Frog Remand Ninth Circuit

Ninth Circuit Decision Remanding "Warranted but Precluded" finding for MYLF back to USFWS

April 1, 2003 Press Release

Lawsuit Filed to Protect Vanishing Sierra Amphibian

Groups claim species relegation to "bureaucratic purgatory" is illegal