The Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog could receive federal protection after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed Wednesday to list the animals along with Yosemite toads under the Endangered Species Act.
The service added the frogs to the candidate list in 2003 in response to litigation from the Center for Biological Diversity, but the listing was delayed by higher-priority species, according to a press release from the nonprofit. The amphibians’ numbers and ranges have declined due to a number of factors including habitat destruction, disease, predation and climate change, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Theses rare frogs and toads will finally get protection and recovery efforts to ensure their survival,” Jeff Miller, conservation advocate with the center, said in a press release. “Their declines are a warning of the failing health of our high Sierra ecosystems, which are being hurt by habitat loss, rapid climate change, introduced species, pesticide contamination and an amphibian disease epidemic.”
The proposed listing won’t affect current steps to restore yellow-legged frog habitat in Desolation Wilderness, U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit Spokeswoman Cheva Heck said. The project, which began in 2008 to remove fish from a portion of the amphibian’s habitat, aimed to prevent the yellow-legged frogs from being re-listed and aligns with efforts to revitalize the species, she said.
“The project is going to go forward,” Heck said Thursday.
According to a 2011 LTBMU document, the aquatics crew removed non-native salmonids from seven Desolation Wilderness lakes using gill nets in 2011. Six of the seven lakes were rendered 99 percent “fishless,” the document stated.
Roland Knapp, a researcher at the University of California’s Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory, said a team will begin monitoring the frog population in the Lake Aloha area this summer.
“In 2014, we may be conducting frog translocations in the Desolation Wilderness, but the design of the translocation study will depend on the outcome of this summer’s population monitoring … If this population is large enough, we would consider translocation of some of these frogs in 2014,” Knapp wrote in an email.
If the yellow-legged frog is listed under the Endangered Species Act, LTBMU researchers would have to apply for a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before relocating any of the animals, spokesman Robert Moler said. Nothing else would change other than that formality, he said.
The service’s proposal for the yellow-legged frog would designate about 1.1. million acres as critical habitat for the animals in 16 counties, including El Dorado and Placer. If the proposal passes, agencies like the Forest Service would have to consult with Fish and Wildlife before pursuing projects that could affect yellow-legged frog critical habitat, Moler said. It’s still too premature to guess what impacts it might have on recreation, he said.