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WASHINGTON March 28, 2019 – A federal judge has upheld critical habitat protection for Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frogs, the northern population of mountain yellow-legged frogs and Yosemite toads in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. The ruling, issued late Wednesday, came from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The Pacific Legal Foundation, an extreme private-property-rights group, filed a lawsuit challenging habitat protections on behalf of the California Cattlemen’s Association and others. The court dismissed the livestock groups’ lawsuit because it failed to show that critical habitat protections affected any of their members.
“This is a huge victory for these incredible, highly imperiled frogs,” said Jenny Loda, a biologist and attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity working to protect rare amphibians and reptiles. “Now the Pacific Legal Foundation and the livestock industry won’t be robbing them of habitat protection they desperately need. This win gives them a fighting chance at recovery.”
Sierra Nevada and mountain yellow-legged frogs have declined by about 90 percent throughout the mountain range due to habitat destruction and degradation, disease, predation by nonnative trout, livestock grazing, pesticides and climate change.
More than half of the Yosemite toad’s populations are now gone, including in Yosemite National Park, where they were first discovered and given their name. Yosemite toads are threatened primarily by livestock grazing, climate change and pesticides.
The court’s ruling maintains approximately 1.8 million acres of critical habitat across 16 counties the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined were essential to the conservation and recovery of these imperiled amphibians. The overwhelming majority of the critical habitat is on federal public lands. Studies show that species with critical habitat are twice as likely to be recovering as those without it.
“Public-lands ranchers’ private interests should not dictate critical habitat designation these sensitive amphibians need to survive,” said Talasi Brooks, staff attorney for Western Watersheds Project. “The ranchers did not show how the critical habitat designation here has any effect on their grazing operations, and the district court got it right when it dismissed the lawsuit.”
The conservation groups that intervened in the lawsuit to defend the habitat protections include the Center for Biological Diversity, Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center and Western Watersheds Project. The groups were represented by attorneys at the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project and the Western Environmental Law Center.
The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned to protect mountain yellow-legged frogs in the Sierra Nevada under the Endangered Species Act in 2000. A recent taxonomic split of the species separated the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog and the northern population of the mountain yellow-legged frog. Both yellow-legged frog species were protected as endangered in 2014.
The Center for Biological Diversity and Pacific Rivers Council petitioned to protect the Yosemite toad in 2000. The toad was protected as a threatened species in 2014. Critical habitat for all three species was designated in 2016.
The critical habitat designation includes habitat in 16 California counties: Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Fresno, Inyo, Lassen, Madera, Mariposa, Mono, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sierra, Tulare and Tuolumne.
For more information about the Center’s campaign to stop the amphibian and reptile extinction crisis, please visit http://BiologicalDiversity.org/herps.