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Settlement Reached in Southwestern Frog Case

Feds to Reconsider Habitat Protection for Chiricahua Leopard Frog

SANTA FE, N.M. - WildEarth Guardians and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) reached a settlement yesterday in a lawsuit challenging the agency’s refusal to protect habitat for the highly imperiled Chiricahua leopard frog. The frog is found in Arizona, New Mexico, and northern Mexico. It is primarily threatened by habitat destruction, climate change, and disease. It is one of many amphibians disappearing across the world.

The Service listed the frog in June 2002, but failed at that time to provide it with a critical habitat designation, citing increased risks of collection and disease to the frog and a lack of benefits from critical habitat. In yesterday’s settlement, the Service agreed to reconsider whether critical habitat will benefit the frog by December 2010. If the Service agrees it will benefit the frog, the agency will issue a final critical habitat designation by December 2011.

“The fate of this frog rests on strong habitat protections, and we will press the Fish and Wildlife Service to provide effective safeguards to pull this animal back from the brink,” stated Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians. “Given impacts from the climate crisis and an array of severe habitat threats throughout its range, the Service must step up habitat protections for the Chiricahua leopard frog,” continued Rosmarino.

The frog is gone from over 80% of its historic habitat in the U.S. Remaining populations are often small and isolated from each other and are therefore more vulnerable to local extinction. Global declines in amphibians have been documented: the 2004 Global Amphibian Assessment, in which 500 scientists participated, reported that nearly one in three (32%) of the world’s amphibians are threatened, and at least 43% are in decline. The assessment points to large-scale threats such as climate change, ultra-violet radiation, environmental contaminants, and disease.

In its 2007 Recovery Plan, the Service described how climate change could threaten the frog. Drought driven by climate change could result in local extinctions of frogs from marginal habitats, reduced suitable habitat, and major population declines. Alternatively, increased rainfall may create more opportunities for predators to harm remaining frog populations, offsetting the benefits from wetter conditions. Increased temperatures could also alter frog breeding by causing earlier reproduction, more rapid development, shorter hibernation, altered ability to find food, and changes in immune function.

If the climate becomes both warmer and drier, writes the Service in the recovery plan, “a variety of indirect effects could occur as well, including habitat loss and fragmentation, and changes in interactions with prey, competitors, predators and parasites, which may form the most serious adverse consequences of climate warming on amphibian populations.”

Another serious global threat is atmospheric ozone depletion. Consequent increased solar radiation on amphibians can result in abnormal embryos and larvae, eye and skin damage, and suppression of the immune system. Contaminants from mining may also compromise frog immune systems. Decreased immunity from either ozone depletion or contaminants could worsen the threat of chytrid fungus, which has already severely harmed some Chiricahua leopard frog populations.

Given all of these threats, contends WildEarth Guardians, critical habitat is a crucial means for reining in destructive land uses, such as livestock grazing. “The least we can do for the frog is protect it from destructive activities on southwestern public lands such as livestock grazing,” stated Rosmarino.

WildEarth Guardians, which has offices in Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico, protects and restores wildlife, wild rivers and wild places in the American West.

To obtain the court order and other background documents, please contact Nicole Rosmarino at or 505-699-7404.


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