PORTLAND, Ore.-- The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for failing to determine whether five increasingly rare amphibians in the Pacific Northwest warrant consideration for Endangered Species Act protection. The Center first petitioned for these species — the Cascades frog, Oregon slender salamander and three torrent salamanders — in July 2012 because habitat loss and other factors are threatening them with extinction.
“Losing these irreplaceable amphibians would impoverish the forests where they live and our own connection with the natural world,” said Collette Adkins Giese, a Center biologist and lawyer. “But with the help of the Endangered Species Act, we can do what’s necessary to save these rare amphibians from extinction.”
Because of unsustainable logging practices, toxic pesticides, climate change and other human causes, nearly one in three amphibians is at risk of dying out, scientists say. This loss is all the more alarming because frogs, toads and salamanders play important roles as predators and prey in their ecosystems and are valuable indicators of environmental health.
“There’s broad scientific consensus that frogs and salamanders face a profound, human-driven extinction crisis that requires prompt action,” said Adkins Giese. “The Endangered Species Act has a nearly perfect record of stopping animals from going extinct — it’s hands-down our best tool for saving these guys.”
The Center was joined in its petition for these five species and other amphibians and reptiles by several renowned scientists and herpetologists, including E.O. Wilson, Thomas Lovejoy and Michael Lannoo. More than 200 scientists sent a letter asking the Service to review the status of the petitioned animals.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is required to make an initial finding within 90 days of receiving a petition about whether protections may be warranted. But more than a year and a half later, the agency has not acted. The 90-day finding is the first in a series of required decisions and simply requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to determine whether the petition presents sufficient information to warrant further consideration, a process that requires few agency resources.
View an interactive state-by-state map showing where the petitioned species live and download photos for media use.
Cascades Frog (California, Oregon, Washington): This medium-sized frog has a slender, brownish body with inky spots, a dark eye mask and honey-yellow legs. It inhabits the Cascade Range, from the very northern edge of California’s Sierra Nevada to near the British Columbia border. The frogs are experiencing sharp declines due to introduction of nonnative trout, disease and drift of airborne pesticides from agricultural areas. Declines are particularly severe in the southernmost parts of their range, where scientists estimate that the frogs have lost about 99 percent of their populations. The skin of the Cascades frog secretes high concentrations of anti-infective peptides that may have therapeutic potential.
Oregon Slender Salamander (Oregon): These striking salamanders are bejeweled with ruby red spots on their black backs. They are found in western Oregon from the Columbia River Gorge in Multnomah and Hood River counties southward in the Cascade Mountains to southern Lane County. The salamander’s declines are largely due to widespread logging of the old-growth forests upon which it depends.
Cascade, Columbia and Olympic Torrent Salamanders (Oregon, Washington): These 4-inch brown salamanders with bulbous eyes and bright yellow bellies prefer cold, slow-moving mountain streams. Due in part to their extremely reduced lungs, even among salamanders they are considered very intolerant of dry conditions, and as a result they occur primarily in older forest sites better able to maintain high moisture levels. Not surprisingly, timber harvest hurts torrent salamanders more than many other amphibians, and the ongoing loss of their habitat through logging is well documented.
The Cascade torrent salamander inhabits coniferous forests on the west slope of the Cascade Mountains, from southern Washington to central Oregon. The Columbia torrent salamander is found in coastal regions of northwestern Oregon and southwestern Washington. The Olympic torrent salamander is limited to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington.