Endangered frog could impact Nevada County | TheUnion.com

Endangered frog could impact Nevada County

Photo provided by United States Geological Survey (Chris Brown)

The potential listing of the Sierra Nevada mountain yellow-legged frog as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act prompted local officials to demand answers regarding potential impacts.

“To help us provide the best information possible, we are also requesting more information on the proposed critical habitat within (Nevada County),” reads a letter to Jan Knight, a field supervisor with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, signed by Supervisors Hank Weston and Nate Beason.

The Endangered Species Act of 1973 tasks the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with administering the law.

Weston and Beason’s letter further requests a field hearing in Nevada City.

The Sierra Nevada mountain yellow-legged frog is currently listed as threatened under California’s Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed federal protection for the frog and two other amphibian species on April 24.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed the first petition to have the yellow-legged frog federally listed in February 2000 and filed several subsequent actions.

“This is great news for the only native amphibians of the high Sierra Nevada, which have suffered massive declines in recent decades and disappeared from most of the places where they once lived,” said the Center’s Jeff Miller.

Once ubiquitous in the upper elevation lakes of the northern portions of the Sierra Nevada range, the frog’s population has diminished significantly due to two major factors, said Tahoe National Forest Biologist Tina Mark.

That is due to the practice of stocking mountain lakes with non-native trout and the spread of chytrid fungus, a lethal skin disease that affects about 287 species of amphibians in countries worldwide, Mark said.

The Tahoe National Forest has several areas designated as habitat for the frog species, including lakes in proximity to the Sierra Buttes, the Granite Chief Wilderness, Loch Leven Lakes and areas near Donner and Independence lakes.

Kirk MacKenzie, founder of Defend Rural America, said the federal listing will encumber a number of activities, including dam building, irrigation, grazing, timber harvest, fire management, mining, road construction and a variety of recreation activities.

However, Mark said timber harvest and fuels reduction projects, some of which are proposed for areas marked as critical habitat for the threatened frog, would not be significantly altered if the species is federally listed.

“It wouldn’t stop the show,” she said.

Mark did say there would be more regulation, a more rigorous environmental analysis that translates to greater costs should the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service move forward with the listing.

“On the ground, it wouldn’t change things significantly,” she said.

However, MacKenzie said the listing of the spotted owl as threatened under the Endangered Species Act significantly impaired the logging industry in California, Oregon and Washington.

The single biggest factor in the spotted owl’s decline has traditionally been identified as habitat loss, making it a flashpoint of controversy between conservationists, loggers, cattle grazers and developers.

“Is someone trying to shut down forestry in the Sierra Nevada forests?” MacKenzie said. “One begins to wonder.”

Marks said the forest service has long recognized the importance of habitat to the Sierra Nevada mountain yellow-legged frog and developed a management plan in 1998.

Yet habitat is not a major factor in the frog’s population decline, Mark said.

The California Fish and Wildlife Service, which is in charge of stocking mountain lakes with non-native trout preferred by sport fishermen, has decreased the frequency at which it stocks lakes where the frog species is endemic, Mark said.

However, the agency has not ceased the practice and is currently conducting a watershed-by-watershed analysis of which water bodies are appropriate to stock.

A representative from California Fish and Wildlife could not be reached as of press time.

MacKenzie estimated about 2 million acres spanning 14 counties could be affected by a decision to list the three amphibians as federally protected endangered species.

Along with the frog endemic to Nevada County, the Yosemite toad and the mountain yellow-legged frog are under consideration.

Beason and Weston requested “a detailed map of the designated habitat areas within (Nevada County),” in their letter; the deadline for requesting a field hearing was June 10.

Four of the 14 potentially impacted counties have requested a field hearing, MacKenzie said.

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email mrenda@theunion.com or 530-477-4239.

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