LOS ANGELES— The Center for Biological Diversity and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reached a settlement agreement today requiring the agency to develop a recovery plan for Southern California’s mountain yellow-legged frogs by December 2018. Only nine populations remain of these endangered frogs, hurt by habitat destruction and introduction of nonnative fish; the frogs have been waiting 12 years for a recovery plan.
“I’m so glad these severely endangered frogs will finally get a recovery plan,” said Collette Adkins Giese, a Center attorney and biologist dedicated to protecting rare amphibians and reptiles. “Recovery plans really need to be developed soon after species are protected, because they give us a roadmap of exactly what we need to do to ensure those species won’t go extinct.”
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 handful of 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 developed under this agreement will make sure that we’re doing everything we can to keep these frogs from vanishing,” said Adkins Giese. “The Endangered Species Act requires the government to develop recovery plans, and that’s one reason the Act is so effective. Through today’s settlement the agency will finally 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 2014 the Service provided Endangered Species Act protection for mountain yellow-legged frogs in the Sierra Nevada. Specifically the Service separately listed the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog (Rana sierrae) and the northern “distinct population segment” of the mountain yellow-legged frog (Rana muscosa). According to the Service, it will be designating final critical habitat for the Sierra Nevada amphibians in the “near future.”
In April 2013 the Service proposed more than 2 million acres of critical habitat for the frogs and toads; it identified 1,105,400 acres essential for the protection and recovery of the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog; 221,498 acres for the northern population of the mountain yellow-legged frog; and 750,926 acres for the Yosemite toad. These protections are the result of a 2011 agreement between the Center and the Service to speed up endangered species protection decisions for 757 imperiled animals and plants around the country.