Frogs get passed over for federal protection |

Frogs get passed over for federal protection

Frogs that are increasingly rare in the Sierra Nevada will not be listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act despite a federal study that indicates its population is dwindling fast.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the mountain yellow-legged frog warrants protection, but will not be put on the List of Threatened and Endangered Species because the agency’s resources are limited and listing a species involves a lot of work.

“We’re not saying we’re not going to list the species,” said Jim Nickles, a spokesman at Fish and Wildlife. “At this point we’re really backed up with a lot of court cases and litigation — that’s driving a lot of the workload.”

A petition filed by The Center for Biological Diversity and the Pacific Rivers Council led a district court to order Fish and Wildlife to conduct a 12-month study of the frog. The study determined their population has decreased between 50 and 80 percent throughout the Sierra.

The agency attributes the decline to the stocking of nonnative fish, disease, air pollution and the effects of ill-managed livestock.

Earthjustice, a nonprofit law firm, announced it intends to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service to fight its decision to not list the frog immediately. Earthjustice said it will file the suit on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity and Pacific Rivers Council.

“This maneuver is indicative of the Bush administration’s disregard for imperiled wildlife and contempt for the Endangered Species Act,” said Jeff Miller, spokesman for the center. “The administration hasn’t tried to cover up the fact that it is hostile to the act.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service made a similar ruling on the Yosemite toad in December. The frog and toad could become extinct while waiting to be listed, Miller said. More than 20 species sit on the “warranted but precluded list” and on average it takes about 17 years to reach the top of the list, he said.

“It really doesn’t have anything do with the Bush administration,” Nickles said. “It has to do with the amount bodies in this office and the workload we’ve got.”

A good portion of the work is created with lawsuits filed by agencies such as The Center for Biological Diversity, Nickles said.

The mountain yellow-legged frog is considered by the state of California to be a species of special concern, but is not listed as threatened or endangered and therefore not protected under the California Endangered Species Act.

Mark Jennings, a research associate at the California Academy of Sciences, collected data, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, that state officials used to determine the status of frogs, fish and amphibians. He said mountain legged-yellow frogs are disappearing even from protected habitats.

“Beside tree frogs … frogs are in decline around the state,” Jennings said. “They are disappearing over wide areas and we just don’t know why.”

Populations of the mountain yellow-legged frog in Southern California, distinct from members of the species that live in the Sierra, were listed as endangered by the Fish and Wildlife Service last year.

“It’s clear this amphibian continues to disappear despite it being listed,” Jennings said.

The mountain yellow-legged frog is native to California and typically is found in the Sierra from 4,500 to 12,000 feet. It favors glacial lakes and can be found west of Lake Tahoe in areas such as the Tahoe National Forest.

A mountain legged-yellow frog is 2 to 3 inches long, with a belly and legs that are often orange or yellow, and backs that are yellowish or reddish brown with black or brown spots.

— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at

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