Groups oppose listing of frogs, toads under ESA


Issue Date: July 10, 2013
By Kate Campbell

An outpouring of comments on proposed listing under the federal Endangered Species Act of two California frog species and the Yosemite toad has prompted reopening of the public comment period. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said listing the species for protection could include designating about 1.8 million acres in 17 California counties as critical habitat and restrict grazing and recreation activities on public land.

The deadline for comments on the proposal had closed in late June, but the FWS said last week it plans to reopen the comment period as a result of public requests.

Groups representing farmers, ranchers and rural Californians, including the California Farm Bureau Federation, submitted comments in late June and said the FWS had ignored scientific findings that conclude livestock grazing is an unlikely factor in declines of the species' populations.

"The USFWS should rely only on factors that have been plainly demonstrated to be major drivers in the declining populations—disease and trout stocking," the joint letter said. "An analysis of how disease and fish stocking may be mitigated in a way that will result in stabilization and ultimate growth of the population is necessary."

Participants in the joint comments included the Rural Counties Representatives of California, CFBF, California Cattlemen's Association, California Wool Growers Association, the Public Lands Council and National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

The groups said if the critical habitat designations for the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog, the northern distinct population segment of the mountain yellow-legged frog and the Yosemite toad were adopted as currently proposed, it would have a negative impact on public access and use of federal lands in California.

Proposed habitat for one or more of the species would affect land in 17 counties: Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, El Dorado, Fresno, Inyo, Lassen, Madera, Mariposa, Mono, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sierra, Tulare and Tuolumne.

"While we find the endangered species listing proposal for the yellow-legged frog to be especially flagrant in its attempt to tie grazing to the decline of the frog population, the proposal to list the Yosemite toad blatantly disregards the best available science, while simultaneously relying on science that has not been peer reviewed and lacks any credibility as to (research) method," the letter said.

The mountain yellow-legged frogs have historically lived in Sierra lakes, ponds, marshes, meadows and streams at elevations between 4,500 and 12,000 feet. The Yosemite toads live in wet meadows and lakeshores surrounded by pines.

The FWS said all three amphibian species are threatened by habitat degradation, predation, climate change and inadequate regulatory protection.

"The next stage of the listing process is to reopen comment for the purpose of gathering further information on the proposed habitat designation and then open another comment period to get input on the economic impact analysis," FWS spokesman Robert Moler said. "There actually will be two more opportunities for the public to comment on the proposed listing, as well as public workshops."

When all comments have been received and reviewed, the proposed rules under the listing will be reviewed by a scientific panel, which could take at least another year, Moler said.

"It's essential for us to engage the public because we're a science-driven agency and like to make our decisions on all the best available information," he said. "We had enough members of the public say they weren't able to get their comments in by the deadline so we're reopening comment."

CFBF and the other organizations that commented on the proposed listing of the amphibians said they also plan to file comments on the critical-habitat designation once the FWS releases its economic impact analysis.

Meanwhile, the FWS announced it is designating 2,485 acres in Kern and Kings counties as critical habitat for the endangered Buena Vista Lake shrew under the ESA. The final designation cuts in half the acres initially proposed for protection.

Designating areas as critical habitat does not establish a refuge or sanctuary for a species, the service said, adding that activities on private lands that don't require federal permits or funding are not affected by a critical habitat designation.

More information on the frog and toad species and the proposed listing under the federal ESA are online at www.fws.gov/sacramento.

(Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at kcampbell@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.