In response to a notice of intent to sue filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Forest Service has restricted livestock grazing on the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest to prevent harm to the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog and Yosemite toad, both of which are protected under the Endangered Species Act. The federal agency said in a letter that it is undergoing consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and has adjusted grazing management for the 2016 season to prevent harm to the two imperiled amphibians.
Unchecked livestock grazing and other activities on Forest Service lands have contributed to the declines of both amphibians. Yet before approving grazing on a series of allotments earlier this year on the Humboldt-Toiyabe, the Forest Service failed to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure the grazing would not jeopardize the survival of the protected frogs and toads, in violation of the Endangered Species Act. The Service is now in formal consultation and has adjusted grazing for the current season, including withdrawing grazing authorization on one allotment and prohibiting livestock from key aquatic areas on another.
“I’m glad to see the Forest Service is finally fulfilling its duty to ensure high-elevation grazing in the Sierra Nevada doesn’t harm these rare species,” said Jenny Loda, a biologist and attorney with the Center whose work is dedicated to protecting rare amphibians and reptiles. “Yellow-legged frogs and Yosemite toads are already in serious trouble, so it’s crucial to ensure that grazing isn’t allowed to foul some of the last habitat they have left.”
Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frogs and Yosemite toads occur at high elevations in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, generally ranging between 4,500 feet and 12,000 feet. Both species have suffered severe population declines and losses throughout their ranges, leading to Endangered Species Act protections in 2014.
Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frogs have suffered dramatic declines in range and numbers due to habitat destruction and degradation from grazing, disease, predation by nonnative trout, pesticides and climate change.
The musical mating calls of Yosemite toads were once a common pleasure for visitors to the High Sierra. But the toads have now disappeared from many areas and suffered severe population losses, including in Yosemite National Park, where they were first discovered and given their name. Yosemite toads are threatened primarily by livestock grazing, climate change and pesticides. Both species, when abundant, play a vital role in energy and nutrient cycling for properly functioning meadows, ponds and adjacent forest ecosystems. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, livestock grazing is a threat to both species and may also limit their recovery.
“The fate of Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frogs and Yosemite toads is closely linked to proper management of the public lands they call home,” said Loda. “We must ensure that these lands are managed to support the recovery of these endangered species and that poor management doesn’t continue to contribute to their demise.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.