Land set aside for Mark Twain’s frog
While the California red-legged frog may feel little safer in El Dorado County, area developers may not.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service passed a ruling Tuesday that set aside 4.1 million acres of the frog’s habitat throughout California, including land in El Dorado County. The frog was put on the endangered species list in 1994 under the Endangered Species Act.
“The critical habitat includes almost the entire Webber Creek Basin,” said Conrad Montgomery, El Dorado County Planning Director. “It also jumps over out of the Webber Creek Basin to the Cosumnes Watershed.”
The California red-legged frog first gained fame in the Mark Twain short story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” Its range once spanned from Northern California to the Baja Peninsula in Mexico. Now it inhabits a few isolated pockets in the coastal regions the Sierra-Nevada.
“In what used to be strongholds of the Sierra, the frog can still be found, but I don’t think there are any serious breeding populations outside the coastal regions,” said Jan Hasselman of the Earth Justice Legal Defense Fund. “The scientists look at a serious breeding population as where there are around 300 breeding age adults together and there are none of those in the Sierra. Where you do find the frogs there are only a couple here and a couple there.”
The frog’s ideal habitat is similar both in the coastal regions and the in the Sierra.
“Pretty much the same ecosystem factors (are found in the Sierra) as what they use elsewhere,” said Hasselman. “The primary constituent is clean flowing water, and healthy vegetation with no disturbance.”
The red-legged frog was thought to be extinct from the Sierra until 1995 when some were discovered in Plumas County. The frog was found to be living in El Dorado County in 1997 when they were discovered during a logging survey near Spivey Pond in Placerville. Since the Gold Rush the frog’s presence in the Sierra has declined due to the effects of humans in the region.
“There are a lot of factors that go into (decline in the red-legged frog population,)” Hasselman said. “Grazing and forest harvesting have an impact on the water.”
Humans have also had an indirect impact on the red-legged frog population by introducing non-indigenous species to Sierra waters where the frogs once thrived.
“If there are bullfrogs that are colonizing a marsh or stream it is hard for (the red-legged frogs) to compete ecologically,” Hasselman said.
Given the bleak state of the red-legged frog population in the Sierras, Hasselman feels that major steps need to be take to see them regain a sizable population in the mountainous regions of California.
“I think reintroduction is a major component (in repopulation of the species,) especially since there are regions where the frogs haven’t been seen in decades,” Hasselman said. “Government folks and private folks are going to have to make an effort to make that happen.”
Despite the intention of FWL ruling, Snodgrass fears that the recent step taken to protect the red-legged frog may have unnecessary adverse effects on the residents of El Dorado County.
“I think it is a poorly written document that in not based on accurate science,” Snodgrass said. “There are important papers and writings on the red-legged frog that were left out. The document has some far-reaching implications and possibilities, the extent of which we still don’t understand what they are. “
El Dorado County Planning Director, Conrad Montgomery said there have already been projects affected by FWS’s decision to protect the critical habitat of the frog. The proposed Sundance Shopping Plaza on U.S. Highway 50 near Shingle Springs was halted though there have been no California red-legged frogs found in the area.
“Because the (FWS) considers this critical habitat, it doesn’t make any difference if there are any frogs there,” Montgomery said. “There is no evidence that there are any frogs in the area. It has rendered the project unfeasible and the project developers pulled out. The county stands to lose millions of dollars in sales tax revenues that would have been generated by this project.”
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