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Group Pushes for Frog Habitat Protection

Grazing, Climate Change Cited as Threats to Chiricahua Leopard Frog

Santa Fe, NM - WildEarth Guardians filed suit today against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, challenging the agency's refusal to protect habitat for the highly endangered Chiricahua leopard frog. The frog is found only 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 as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in June 2002, in response to a petition and legal action by the Center for Biological Diversity. When it listed the frog, the Service declared it was "not prudent" 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.

The agency said it would reconsider critical habitat when it developed the frog's recovery plan, but the recovery plan was finalized in 2007 and did not reconsider the issue. The suit filed by WildEarth Guardians today challenges the Service's failure to upgrade protections for the frog by providing it with critical habitat and argues that this designation would help protect frog habitat from livestock grazing and an array of additional threats.

"The Fish and Wildlife Service has continually put off habitat protections for the frog, which is being pushed to the very margins of existence from severe habitat threats," stated Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians. "Despoiling of frog habitat by cows, drying up of frog habitat from drought, and invasion of frog habitat by non-native fishes and bullfrogs are among the many threats this species on the brink faces," 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. Large-scale threats such as climate change, ultra-violet radiation, environmental contaminants, and disease have been implicated.

In its 2007 Recovery Plan, the Service discussed 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."

"The Service needs to use every tool in the toolbox to protect a frog that is blinking out in our corner of the world. One of the most powerful tools they can use is critical habitat protection," stated Rosmarino.

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 complaint and other background documents, please contact Nicole Rosmarino at nrosmarino@wildearthguardians.org or 505-988-9126x1156.


 

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