WASHINGTON (CN) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to protect two California frogs and a toad under the Endangered Species Act. It also proposed protecting 1.8 million combined acres of critical habitat for the amphibians.
The three Endangered Species Act listing proposals stem from a 2011 settlement between the USFWS and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) environmental group, which filed suit challenging the agency's prior "warranted, but precluded" findings for the three amphibians.
"This is great news for the only native amphibians of the high Sierra Nevada, which have suffered massive declines in recent decades and disappeared from most of the places where they once lived," the CBD's Jeff Miller was quoted as saying, in the group's press release.
Since the CBD's original petition to list the frogs in 2000, the species has been split taxonomically, so the current action proposes to list the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog (Rana sierrae) and the northern "distinct population segment" of the mountain yellow-legged frog (Rana muscosa) as endangered. The Yosemite toad is proposed for listing status as threatened, according to the action.
The USFWS estimates that the frog populations have declined by 69 to 93 percent from the available historic populations, and the toads also are occurring in "very low numbers relative to general abundance reported in the historical record," the proposed rule stated.
Over the last two decades, fungus and viral pathogens have played a part in worldwide amphibian population declines, including mass die-offs and extinctions, the agency noted. The disease threats to the frogs and toads are exacerbated by climate change, human recreational activities, timber harvest, grazing, fire management, water diversion projects, habitat fragmentation and the introduction of trout for sport fishing into waterways that previously did not have predatory fish.
In a second action, the USFWS proposed to designate 1,105,400 acres of critical habitat in 16 counties for the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog, 221,498 acres in two counties for the mountain yellow-legged frog, and 750,926 acres in seven counties for the Yosemite toad. Since there are overlapping areas, the proposed total critical habitat is 1,831,820 acres, most of which is on federal lands, according to the agency's statement.
"With two amphibian species possibly facing extinction, one more at serious risk, and almost two million acres of critical habitat being proposed, we will need the best available scientific information in order to make our final decision on protecting these species," Jan Knight, Acting Field Supervisor for the Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Service, noted in the agency's statement.
The USFWS requests comments and scientific information on the two proposed rules by June 24.
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