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Endangered Frog Hops Toward Greater Habitat Protections

March 14, 2011
Nicole Rosmarino (505) 699-7404
In This Release
Wildlife   Chiricahua leopard frog
Monday, March 14, 2011
Endangered Frog Hops Toward Greater Habitat Protections

Government Proposes Critical Habitat for Chiricahua Leopard Frog
Contact: Nicole Rosmarino (505) 699-7404

Washington, DC-March 14. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) isproposing critical habitat protections under the Endangered Species Act (ESA)for the Chiricahua leopard frog in tomorrow’s Federal Register. The action isin response to a May 2009 court order obtained by WildEarth Guardians.Altogether, 11,136 acres are proposed for critical habitat in Arizona and NewMexico.

“Critical habitat forthe Chiricahua leopard frog would make a world of difference for this imperiledamphibian,” stated Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians. “Facing climatechange, an onslaught of threats to its habitat, devastating chytrid fungus, andnon-native predators, this frog needs all the help it can get.”

The Chiricahua leopard frog is found at fewer than 20 percent of itshistoric locations. It has been eliminated from its namesake, the ChiricahuaMountains of Arizona. The Service believes that the leopard frog “has probablymade modest population gains in Arizona” but is declining in New Mexico.

In tomorrow’s finding, the Service is proposing 40 units as criticalhabitat for the species. They total 11,136 acres, 6,571 of which is federal (59percent); 426 state (4 percent); and 4,139 private (37 percent). All but 2 ofthe 40 sites are currently occupied by leopard frogs. Guardians advocatesdesignation of all occupied sites as critical habitat, as well as unoccupiedsites that still contain suitable habitat. Without critical habitat status,areas from which listed species have been eliminated generally do not receivesignificant protections under the ESA. Because the Chiricahua leopard frog ismissing from the majority (more than 80 percent) of its range, protection ofunoccupied sites is crucial for recovery.

Threats to the leopard frog and its habitat include mining, livestockgrazing, water diversion, groundwater pumping, development, and altered fireregimes. A specific impending danger is the Rosemont Copper Mine, proposed inthe Santa Rita Mountains. The proposed mine site includes areas occupied byChiricahua leopard frogs; however, the Service’s proposal notably omitsdesignating critical habitat at the mine site. Three critical habitat units arejust a few miles south of the Rosemont proposed mine location.

Additional grave threats are chytrid fungus and predation by non-nativeanimals. Both of these perils are exacerbated by destructive land uses andresulting habitat degradation. Chytrid fungus is contributing to declines inamphibians worldwide and has caused major die-offs in the Chiricahua leopardfrog. Non-native predators the Chiricahua leopard frog faces include bullfrogs,crayfish, fish, and salamanders. For instance, sites where the leopard frog hasbeen eliminated are 2.6 times more likely to have introduced crayfish thancontrol sites. Also, despite prohibitions, the Service has documented continuedreleases by anglers of non-native salamanders (used as bait) infected withchytrid into the leopard frog’s habitat.

The U.S.Forest Service also contributes to ongoing threats to the frog. For example, onthe Coronado National Forest, rainbow trout were stocked back into Pena BlancaLake. Writes the Service: “Chiricahua leopard frogs and tadpoles were found inPeña Blanca Lake in 2009 and 2010, after the lake had been drained and thenrefilled, which eliminated the nonnative predators. However, early in 2010, rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)were restocked back into the lake, and plans are underway to reestablish avariety of warm water fishes, as well.”

Other threats to the leopard frog include climate change and drought.The Service had previously regarded both as threats to this species. TheService now appears, through tomorrow’s finding, to dismiss these threats.However, in its site-specific analysis of conditions at the 40 units proposedfor critical habitat, the agency often mentions problems caused drought, whichis exacerbated in the southwest by climate change.

The proposal reviews the overall status of the Chiricahua leopard frog (Lithobateschiricahuensis), given a recent taxonomicchange. Guardians petitioned the Ramsey Canyon leopard frog (Lithobates subaquavocalis) for ESAlisting in 2007, and scientists subsequently reclassified the species under theChiricahua leopard frog. In a 2009 decision on Guardians’ petition, the Servicestated that the Ramsey Canyon leopard frog was therefore listed under the ESA.In tomorrow’s decision, the agency reviews the status of the full species, giventhat it now includes the Ramsey Canyon leopard frog. 4 of the 40 criticalhabitat units are in areas occupied by frogs formerly known as Ramsey Canyonleopard frogs.

A final critical habitat determination for theChiricahua leopard frog is due by March 2012, under court order.


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“Critical habitat for the Chiricahua leopard frog would make a world of difference for this imperiled amphibian,” stated Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians. “Facing climate change, an onslaught of threats to its habitat, devastating chytrid fungus, and non-native predators, this frog needs all the help it can get.”