Twain Harte, CA…When it comes to government regulations that are designed to protect threatened wildlife species, some people respond with strong resentment. One strident speaker at a recent political hearing insisted, “Let’s worry about humans, not frogs! Yet when it comes to a proposed plan put recently forward by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect three Sierra Nevada amphibians, the protective measures for the two frog species and the Yosemite toad would also benefit people as well. That was a key message CSERC attempted to convey in guest opinion pieces that ran in early August in three major urban area newspapers and the local Sonora Union Democrat paper.
BACKGROUND FOR THIS EMOTIONAL ISSUE
The federal Endangered Species Act has been an inviting target for anti-environmental politicians ever since Congress approved the ESA. Whether it is sea turtles, Chinook salmon, or the California tiger salamander that would be protected, various interest group will always end up with some restrictions if protective measures are put in place to keep a species from going extinct. Those interest groups usually vigorously oppose every regulation. In California, legislators representing rural counties have been especially vitriolic against ESA protections as they have sided with agriculture, the timber industry, motorized groups, and the mining industry. All of these interests lash out at even the smallest restriction put in place to protect at-risk plants or wildlife.
In April, U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials released a proposed plan for public feedback. The plan aims to improve essential protective measures to benefit three amphibians that are disappearing from much of their historic habitat across the Sierra Nevada region.
WHY IS THE FWS AIMING TO PROTECT THE THREE SIERRA AMPHIBIANS?
For decades, the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog and the closely associated mountain yellow-legged frog have faded or disappeared from one historic habitat area after another. Likewise, the Yosemite toad has also declined greatly – with all the species now missing or at minimum numbers across 90% of their historic range.
These are four main reasons why the amphibians have suffered such great losses:
1) The stocking of trout in countless high-elevation lakes and streams that were naturally fishless has resulted in decades of fish predation that has been devastating to native amphibian species, especially the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog.
2) There is the worldwide spread of the often-deadly Chytrid fungus that can cause significant declines in populations of frogs or toads, even at remote lakes or ponds.
3) Across vast areas of the high elevation habitat that is critical for the three species, livestock grazing often results in impacts such as crumbled stream banks, denuded riparian areas, overgrazed willows that no longer provide shady shelter, and degraded water quality in streams and pools.
4) Due to the warming, drying climate and a far shorter wet season, there is often less wet habitat. Fewer tadpoles or juveniles survive until the fall rains.
In a much lower category of threats, the cumulative impacts of logging, mining, off-road vehicle use, and non-motorized recreational use have all incrementally had some impact on amphibian habitat across the upper-middle elevations of the range. It is notable that the FWS states that those threats are not significant for the disappearing amphibians, and they will not be the focus of mitigation measures tied to the plan.
OUT OF THE FOUR KEY THREATS, ONLY LIVESTOCK GRAZING CAN BE MANAGED
Livestock grazing on national forest and private lands during the summer season brings vast numbers of cows into high elevation habitat along streams and lakes. The U.S. Forest Service can manage the numbers and the length of duration of the presence of livestock in areas where cows damage amphibian habitat.
The federal government does not control fish stocking (state authority) and cannot prevent the spread of the Chytrid fungus or block the effects of climate change on the Sierra Nevada snowpack and weather patterns. Only livestock grazing can actually be managed.
DESPITE CRITICS’ CLAIMS, THE USFWS PROPOSAL WILL NOT CAUSE MAJOR IMPACTS
Opponents of the Endangered Species Act and other major government regulations have lashed out at the proposed FWS Rule that aims to protect the amphibians. Critics have claimed that access to public lands may be closed to recreational visitors, which is a false claim. They also claim that logging might be greatly restricted, when in truth hardly any suitable timberland is even included within the FWS proposal for habitat protection.
For example, in the mapped critical amphibian habitat proposed for Tuolumne County, 93% of the habitat is located within existing Wilderness in the Stanislaus Forest or Yosemite National Park (logging and mechanized activities are already prohibited in designated Wilderness). Only a tiny percentage of the proposed critical habitat areas includes any private land, and for those private parcels, zero restrictions apply unless the property owners apply for federal funding.
The truth is that the FWS Proposed Rule will simply require other federal agencies to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service to look for ways to reduce destruction to the wetland habitat areas that are important for the frogs and the toad. It will not cause any measurable harm to local economies. Instead, by better protecting degraded habitat along streams and lakes, it will actually help to benefit water quality and watershed health, resulting in a major economic plus for local and regional water users.
If you’ve read enough to know you want to support the effort to protect these amphibians, go to CSERC’s Activist Alert by linking here. If you want to know more, keep reading.
TWO PLACES WHERE YOU CAN FIND IN-DEPTH DETAILS ABOUT THE ISSUE
The proposed rule can be found at: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2013/04/25 under the Fish and Wildlife Service heading.
Or… You can learn more by reading the detailed information CSERC has extracted from the FWS website further by clicking the link below.