Species in peril | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Species in peril

David Bunker

Development, pollution and forest management has imperiled more than 800 animal species in California, including 57 animals native to the Sierra Nevada, according to a state report to be released soon.

The first-of-its-kind report, commissioned by the California Department of Fish and Game, found that populations of Sierra willow flycatchers and mountain yellow-legged frogs have been hurt by activities including livestock grazing and non-native fish stocking.

“We’ve never done something this comprehensive before,” said Dale Steele, who manages the department of species conservation and recovery for Fish and Game.

Global warming, water diversion, development and recreation are some of the factors that led to the bleak outlook for hundreds of animal species in California, according to the 500-page report. Approximately 481 of the wildlife species in the report are not found anywhere outside of California.

The department hopes that publicizing the breadth of the threat to wildlife habitat in the state will spur strategies to save many of the threatened or rare species.

“If we can do something up front, we are better off than if we wait until we have a crisis on our hands and a species is listed (as threatened or endangered),” Steele said.

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Many Sierra Nevada species, such as the Sierra Nevada red fox and the wolverine, remain largely a mystery to researchers. The numbers of animals left in the wild, their habits and threats to their survival are largely undocumented.

But Fish and Game knew the animals were scarce enough to list as threatened and endangered in 2004.

The purpose of the report is to direct federal funding to states to help preserve species at risk. The federal government has given nearly $400 million to states and Indian tribes under the grant program, with another $68.5 million set for distribution next spring. California will receive more than $18 million in wildlife conservation grants, but Steele said that is only a drop in the bucket when put up against the problems the report outlines.

“There just isn’t the money to go around,” Steele said.

One of the authors of the report said findings show that California’s population can expand while maintaining habitat at the same time.

“If done with thought and science, we can grow and still maintain a high quality of wildlife habitat in California,” said report co-author David Bunn of the University of California, Davis.

If not, “we’re going to lose a lot of species and resources that we don’t have to lose.”

The report is expected to be made public in January. It will be posted on the California Department of Fish and Game’s Web site.

Some Sierra species at risk

Sierra Willow Flycatcher

Status: Listed as endangered in 1995 by California and the federal government.

What’s going on now?: This bird breeds in willow thickets near meadows. Biologists have determined that livestock grazing, which can damage willows, pack down meadows and erode the earth near streams has been a prime factor in the Flycatcher’s decline.

Sierra Nevada Red Fox

Status: Unknown. These foxes live in remote, unpopulated regions of the Sierra Nevada and sightings are rare.

What’s going on now: Researchers have yet to peg a reliable number of how many species live in the Sierra.


Status: Unknown. Wolverines have been seen from low to very high points in the Sierra. Research is being conducted on Wolverines in the Sierra, and it is estimated that between 50 and 100 animals live in the Sierra.

What’s going on now: No planning documents in the state have addressed the need to preserve Wolverine habitat, according to a Fish and Game report.

Mountain Yellow-legged frog

Status: Populations dropped dramatically in the Sierra, and biologists found a link between non-native fish stocking and the frog’s decline. Since fish stocking has been stopped or reduced in many Sierra lakes, the frogs have repopulated in areas.

What’s going on now: Biologists are still studying whether trout are the only culprit behind the frog’s problems or whether climate change and other factors have affected the high-elevation amphibian.