Frog messing with Placerville development
The California red-legged frog is a small and timid species, perfectly content to mind its own business munching a bug or two on the banks of Weber Creek in Placerville.
So how come the amphibian is causing such a hullabaloo in the chambers of the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors?
“It’s simple; every time you have an environmental issue that comes with some expense, you have trouble in this county,” said Alan Ehrgott, the executive director of the American River Conservancy. “And until we get some intelligent leadership in this county, that’s the way it’s going to remain.”
In May of this year, a multi-agency task force made up of several state and federal agencies signed a memorandum of understanding to cooperate in the management of a 54-acre wildlife sanctuary at Spivey Pond – which runs into the north fork of Weber Creek, and is part of the Weber Creek drainage system. The site, which was established to protect a breeding population of the federally protected red-legged frog, was purchased through grants from federal, state and private agencies – including the Wildlife Conservation Group. Total purchase price was a little more than $300,000.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the California Department of Fish and Game and the American River Conservancy all signed the MOU. The El Dorado County Board of Supervisors has also done so, with a caveat. On Tuesday the board voted to temporarily approve the MOU, but leave open an option to discard it at a later date.
“If we’re having a federal mandate imposed on us, I want to know for sure if it is going to move beyond those 54 acres,” said Second District Supervisor Ray Nutting, whose district includes Meyers and Tahoe Paradise.
“I find it hard to believe that this frog is as rare as they say.”
But, according to experts, it is. There are only two known breeding populations of the red-legged frog in California – one at Spivey Pond. The species, in fact, was thought to be extinct in the Sierra until a few were found in near the Feather River in Plumas County in 1995 in connection with a timber harvest survey.
This particular frog was quite common in Gold Rush times – and even starred in Mark Twain’s fabled short story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”
“The 49ers caught a lot of the frogs for food,” Ehrgott said. “But the real decline began years later, when we started filling the wetlands due to development and agricultural pursuits. Also, the introduction of the bullfrog and non-native fish species helped to deplete them.
“This is the only breeding population left in the county, and only one of two in the entire state,” he said. “But in this county, no one seems to care. That’s why I stopped going to (board) meetings. Every time I stick my head up, someone takes a swipe at it.”
The prevailing sentiment in El Dorado County, at least as reflected in the board chamber on Tuesday, seems to be a fear that the 54-acre frog sanctuary at Spivey might begin to spread – placing other parcels in the county under government control.
“The public was not afforded full visibility on this issue,” said Tom Mahach, the District 2 Planning Commissioner. “No one is looking at what comes next. For example, a portion of Highway 50 is designed to drain into the Weber Creek drainage system. Are oil traps going to be installed because of this?”
Said Fifth District Supervisor Dave Solaro: “I’m concerned because the board was not included in the process (of forming the Spivey Pond sanctuary). It’s like they forgot we were here.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Ehrgott said. “That sanctuary is for the 54-acre parcel only. It does not affect anything else.”
If the board chooses not to sign the MOU, it will be no skin off of a frog’s teeth, so to speak.
“It’s a symbolic gesture,” Ehrgott said. “It just means that they refuse to cooperate with the management of the sanctuary.”
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