SAN FRANCISCO— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against the Interior Department Wednesday for failing to develop a recovery plan for Southern California’s mountain yellow-legged frogs. Although the frogs have been protected under the Endangered Species Act for more than a decade, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has yet to complete the legally required recovery plan that’s needed to save them from extinction.
“Without a concrete plan for recovery, these increasingly rare frogs are vulnerable to threats like exotic predators and habitat destruction,” said Collette Adkins Giese, a Center attorney and biologist dedicated to protecting rare amphibians and reptiles. “In the 12 years they have been waiting for a recovery plan, Southern California mountain yellow-legged frogs have continued to slide toward the brink of extinction.”
Recovery plans are a key tool for identifying actions necessary to save endangered species and eventually remove their Endangered Species Act protection. Species with dedicated recovery plans are significantly more likely to be improving than species without plans.
Since the 1900s mountain yellow-legged frogs have disappeared from nearly all of their former range in Southern California. By the 1990s fewer than 100 individuals were thought to remain, surviving only in a few isolated headwater streams. Predation by introduced fish, primarily rainbow trout, is one of the best-documented causes of these frogs’ decline. Another primary threat is habitat damage caused by recreation and other factors.
“A recovery plan would ensure we are doing everything necessary to save these frogs from extinction,” said Adkins Giese. “The Endangered Species Act requires the agency to develop recovery plans, which is one of the reasons why the Act is so effective. But the agency needs to do what the law requires.”
The mountain yellow-legged frog (Rana muscosa) occupies rocky, shaded streams with cool waters originating from springs and snowmelt. A “distinct population segment” of mountain yellow-legged frogs in Southern California has been federally listed as endangered since 2002. Historically, mountain yellow-legged frogs in Southern California lived across a wide range of elevations and in a wide variety of wetland habitats, but the frogs are now limited to nine precariously small populations in the San Gabriel, San Bernardino and San Jacinto mountains.
In April 2013 the Service proposed Endangered Species Act protection for mountain yellow-legged frogs in the Sierra Nevada. Specifically the Service proposed to separately list the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog (Rana sierrae) and the northern “distinct population segment” of the mountain yellow-legged frog (Rana muscosa), at the same time designating critical habitat of more than 1.1 million acres and 221,000 acres, respectively, for the frogs.