SACRAMENTO – In response to a petition and lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity, the US Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed endangered species law protection for four populations of yellow-legged frogs in the foothills from Sierra Nevada and central and southern California. This stream-living frog species has disappeared from more than 50% of its historic habitat in the state.
“Finally, these little lemon-legged frogs, which are such an integral part of our natural stream ecosystems, have gotten the protection they need to survive,” said Jeff Miller, senior conservation advocate at the Center. . “Protecting these precious creatures will also help protect the rivers and coastal streams and foothills of the Sierra that we all rely on for drinking water and recreation. “
The Service proposed to list the Yellow-legged Frog populations of the southern Sierra Nevada foothills and the southern California coast as Endangered and the North Feather River and Central Coast populations of the California as threatened. A northern Sierra Nevada population is not proposed for federal protection, but was listed as State Threatened in 2019.
Foothills yellow-legged frogs have previously been found in many streams and rivers along the lower western slopes of the Sierra Nevada as well as in the Pacific Coast watersheds from the Oregon border to the south. at least as far as Los Angeles County. The species has now disappeared from more than half of its former California range.
These frogs are threatened by a wide range of activities and processes that damage their habitat, including dams and water diversions that alter the hydrology of streams, high severity forest fires, flooding. , logging, mining, cattle grazing, urban development and growing marijuana. They are also affected by invasive species, climate change, disease and the use of pesticides.
The Service has proposed rules to prohibit “taking” or harming frogs through collection, habitat destruction, harmful water diversions or channel alterations of streams, grazing of the river. livestock that damage riparian habitat, introduction of bullfrogs or invasive fish into Yellow-legged Frog habitat, and pesticide applications that violate tag restrictions. Exemptions from harvest bans are proposed for forest fire prevention, logging as part of established forest or fuel management plans that include measures to minimize impacts on frogs and their habitat, restoration stream habitat, elimination of illegal cannabis grow sites, elimination of invasive species, and the State of California. activities and projects designed to conserve yellow-legged frogs in the foothills.
Adult Foothill Yellow-legged Frogs (Rana boylii) are 1.5 to 3 inches long, with a distinctive lemon yellow color under the legs. They inhabit partially shaded rocky streams that flow year-round, and their life cycle is synchronized with the seasonal calendar of flow conditions. These frogs need perennial water where they can feed during the summer and fall months.
The northern Sierra population stretches from the Middle Fork American River in El Dorado County, north through the Sierra foothills to the upper Yuba River watershed in Plumas County. The Southern Sierra population extends from the South Fork American River watershed south through the Sierra foothills to the Tehachapi Mountains. The genetically unique population of Feather River is found primarily in Plumas and Butte counties.
At least half of the historically known populations of frogs have been lost in all northern and central Sierra counties except Plumas. Healthy populations of frogs persist in the northern and central Sierras of the American, Clavey, Cosumnes, Feather, Merced, Mokelumne, Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Yuba rivers.
The Central Coast population lives in streams in the East Bay and south of San Francisco Bay in the Coast Ranges to San Benito and Monterey counties. Significant populations of Yellow-legged Foothill Frogs persist in the Diablo Range. The South Coast population is found west of the Salinas Valley in Monterey County and south in the South Coast Ranges. These frogs are now extinct from all coastal waterways south of San Luis Obispo County.
The Center filed a petition in 2012 to protect the Yellow-legged Frog from the foothills under the federal Endangered Species Act and in 2016 for protection under the California Endangered Species Act. The California Fish and Game Commission in 2019 classified the populations of the Southern Sierra, Central Coast and the South Coast as Threatened, and the populations of the Northern Sierra and Feather River as Threatened. Federal and state wildlife authorities have determined that yellow-legged frogs in the northern California and Oregon coast foothills do not currently warrant protection.
Several related populations of yellow-legged frogs which are distinct species living in the high elevation streams and lakes of the Sierra Nevada have already been listed as endangered. The Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog (Sierra de Rana) and a northern Sierra population of the Yellow-legged Mountain Frog (Rana muscosa) were listed as Endangered in 2014, and a population of Southern California Mountain Yellow-legged Frogs was listed as Endangered in 2002.