On behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity and Pacific Rivers Council, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit today in Federal District Court against the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service for stalling Endangered Species Act protection for two Sierra Nevada amphibian species. The Fish and Wildlife Service has illegally delayed making a decision on petitions to list the Yosemite Toad and the Sierra Nevada population of the mountain yellow-legged frog. Over a year ago, CBD and PRC submitted petitions documenting significant and alarming declines in the range and abundance of both species. On October 5, 2000, the Service responded with a finding that the listing of both amphibians may be warranted. Since then, however, FWS has been silent, missing its final statutory deadlines for issuing a decision. The agency was required to a make a final determination of listing status by March 2, 2001 for the mountain yellow-legged frog, and by March 6, 2001 for the Yosemite toad.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service’s delay in protecting the frog and the toad under the Endangered Species Act is illegal, and potentially dangerous for these declining species,” said Laura Hoehn, lead attorney for Earthjustice. “Congress built hard deadlines into the Act to protect species from this kind of agency paralysis. Inaction may lead to extinction.”
“We’re on the brink of losing what were once the two most common amphibians in the High Sierra,” said Jeff Miller, spokesman for the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Yosemite toad and mountain yellow-legged frog are rapidly disappearing from the Sierra Nevada. Both species clearly warrant immediate listing as endangered.”
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.
The Yosemite toad was once common in the high country of the central Sierra Nevada from Fresno to Alpine Counties. As with the frog, recent surveys reveal that the Yosemite toad has disappeared from a majority of its historic breeding sites. Declines have been especially alarming in Yosemite National Park, thought to be the species’ most pristine and protected stronghold. Both species have been adversely impacted by introduced fish species, which prey on larval and juvenile frogs and toads, while their habitat has been degraded by pesticide pollution, cattle grazing, pathogens, and ozone depletion.
“The demise of amphibians is one symptom of the degradation of Sierra Nevada watersheds,” said David Bayles, conservation director for PRC. “More than half of the native amphibians in Sierra Nevada watersheds are in serious decline, and in need of formal protection. These same watersheds are also 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.”
CBD’s Miller agreed. “The disappearance of the frog and toad is part of a global pattern of amphibian decline. This is disturbing because the health of amphibian populations is an indicator of the health of the aquatic ecosystems and atmospheric conditions that sustain us.”