Newly Discovered Toad, Sparrow Inch Toward Protection

The Dixie Valley toad. (Photo by Patrick Donnelly, Center for Biological Diversity.)

(CN) — A recently discovered frog species in Nevada and a unique singing sparrow are being eyed for protection under the Endangered Species Act, according to federal regulators.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Tuesday it is moving forward with petitions from the Center for Biological Diversity and the American Bird Conservancy to list the Dixie Valley toad and the Oregon vesper sparrow as threatened or endangered.

It said 90-day reviews of both species warrant more substantial 12-month reviews for potential federal protection.

The agency is also looking at taking the yellow-billed cuckoo off of the list of protections under the Endangered Species Act, or ESA, at the urging of mining and ranching industry groups.

The Dixie Valley toad is the only new species of frog that has been discovered in North America since 1968, and the tiny toad is found only in four spring-fed wetlands in Dixie Valley, Nevada.

The toad species was discovered by researchers in Churchill County, about 100 miles east of Reno. The toad is found in an isolated spring-fed marsh that makes up less than 4 square miles, surrounded by an arid region where aquatic resources are rare, according to University of Nevada-Reno biologist Dick Tracy.

Tracy said the habitat for this toad is adjacent to a proposed site for a geothermal power plant.

The American Bird Conservancy petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service in November 2017 to have the Oregon vesper sparrow protected under the ESA.

The Oregon vesper sparrow got its name in the mid-1800s from biologists who said the bird sounded like evening “vespers,” songs sung by Christians at night.

The bird’s breeding range consists of parts of Washington State and Oregon. Its winter range includes parts of California, from the lowlands west of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the San Francisco Bay area through the San Joaquin Valley to coastal southern California.

The petition seeks to have the Oregon vesper sparrow listed as threatened or endangered, and its habitat designated as critical. Without ESA protections, the bird’s future looks “grim,” according to Bob Altman of the American Bird Conservation.

The estimated population of the bird species is fewer than 3,000 birds and, according to Altman, there has been a significant population decline of more than five percent every year over the last 45 years.

“We are deeply concerned about the future of this bird,” Altman said in a statement. “With so few birds remaining, many in small and isolated populations, the Oregon vesper sparrow needs the immediate protection and conservation focus made possible through ESA listing.”

Meanwhile, Arizona industry groups are seeking to have a population of yellow-billed cuckoo taken off the endangered-species list.

The yellow-billed cuckoo lives in North America across the continental United States and parts of British Columbia and Mexico. The species winters in Central and South America. A distinct population lives in the area west of the Rocky Mountains from British Columbia to Mexico. This population segment of the yellow-billed cuckoo is current listed as threatened.

That is the population that American Stewards of Liberty, Arizona Cattlemen’s Association, Arizona Mining Association, Hereford Natural Resource Conservation District, Jim Chilton, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Public Lands Council, WestLand Resources, Inc., and Winkelman Natural Resource Conservation District seek to have removed from ESA protection.

The industry groups said in their petition that the bird species should be delisted as a result of it using additional habitat outside the area designated under its ESA protections.

The Fish and Wildlife Service will now take public comment and gather additional data on the status reviews of the petitions, which can be found at http://www.regulations.gov.

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