WASHINGTON (CN) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Friday designated over 1.8 million acres of critical habitat for three California amphibians listed as endangered or threatened species in 2014. The Endangered Species Act mandates that critical habitat for endangered or threatened species be designated at the time they are listed, or within one year, if it is determinable.
The agency determined that the designation spanning 16 counties in California was needed for the conservation of the Yosemite toad, Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog, and the northern distinct population segment of the mountain yellow-legged frog. The agency noted that there is significant overlap in the areas designated for each species, and the 1,812,164 designated acres represent the total acreage of the overlapping areas. The final designation is 23,229 acres less than what was originally proposed.
"The designation of critical habitat is an essential, final step in the listing process that will not only help us better conserve these imperiled species but recover and delist them," Jennifer Norris, Ph.D., field supervisor of the Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office, said. "The Service has been working diligently with our partners, including the Forest Service and the state of California, to ensure both effective conservation and continued multiple uses of our public land."
The majority of the designated land is in national forests and national parks or designated wilderness areas. "Land use in the designated critical habitat areas consists primarily of high-elevation wilderness and forested lands with multiple uses, including recreation, fire and timber management, livestock grazing, and mining. Recreational activities in these areas should not significantly threaten the recovery of these species," the agency said.
The listing of the three amphibians resulted from a petition filed in 2000 by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). Amphibian species world-wide have suffered serious declines due to fungal disease, but these three species also face threats from habitat destruction, livestock grazing, climate change and pesticide use.
"This is an important step for saving the vanishing amphibians of the high Sierra Nevada, which have suffered massive declines in recent decades and disappeared from most of the Sierra lakes and streams where they once lived," CBD's Jeff Miller said. "The Endangered Species Act is our best tool for preventing their extinction, and protecting some of the most important high-elevation amphibian habitat will give them a fighting chance at recovery."
The endangered Sierra Nevada frogs have had a 70 percent population decline, the endangered mountain frogs have declined by over 80 percent, and the threatened toad has declined by about 50 percent, the agency noted.
"Yellow-legged frogs and Yosemite toads were a common sight in the high Sierras until fairly recently," CBD's Miller said. "Their rapid declines are a warning of the failing health of our high Sierra ecosystems. Critical habitat will not only protect these amphibians but will also protect water bodies, riparian areas and wet meadows that provide fresh, clean water for many Californians and habitat for other species."
Critical habitat designation does not change private land ownership or use for activities that do not require federal permits or receive federal funding, according to the agency. The designation requires federal agencies to take note of the needs of the protected species when authorizing, funding or carrying out projects on designated habitat.
"The critical habitat designation may also be used to better focus efforts undertaken by the National Park Service and others to help these species survive chytrid fungus—a disease that is decimating amphibian populations worldwide," the agency said.
The critical habitat designation is effective Sept. 26.
Photo caption: Yosemite toad Credit: Rob Grasso/NP
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