Attached is a comment letter for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding its proposed designation of critical habitat in our area for the Yellow-Legged Frog. Please publish it if you have the space and inclination. This is an action that could severely limit the use of a large part of our backcountry, particularly since it likely would eliminate fish and fishing in these areas. However, the USFWS is required to consider the impacts of a designation both economically and otherwise, which means public comment about how the designation will impact residents could make a difference. The areas under threat include: Rock Creek Lake and its tributary lakes and streams (Little Lakes Valley); lakes and streams tributary to North Lake (Paiute Pass, Lamarck Lakes); South Lake and its tributary streams and lakes (Bishop Creek pass trail and Treasure Lakes); lakes and streams on Coyote Flat; lakes and streams up-trail from Glacier Lodge in Big Pine Canyon; and lakes and streams above the Onion Valley trailhead. I would encourage those who are concerned about use of these public lands to send a comment letter to the USFWS.
Randy Keller, Bishop, CA
(Letter to Fish and Wildlife)
Public Comments Processing, Attn. FWS–R8–ES–2012–0074
Division of Policy and Directives Management
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
4401 N. Fairfax Dr., MS 2042-PDM
Arlington, VA 22203
Reference: Docket No. FWS–R8–ES–2012–0074 (Designation of Critical Habitat for the Sierra Nevada Yellow-Legged Frog, the Northern Distinct Population Segment of the Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog, and the Yosemite Toad)
Dear Sir or Madam:
I am writing to comment on the proposed designation of critical habitat for the Mountain and Sierra Nevada Yellow-Legged Frogs and the Yosemite Toad in large areas of the Sierra Nevada. As a frequent user of and occasional fisherman in the proposed critical habitat, I am concerned about both the process of designating these lands and its underlying necessity. In my opinion, the approach being taken by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is both legally inadequate and fundamentally unfair to those of us who live in the areas surrounding these lands.
The proposed rule makes a convincing case that the yellow-legged frogs do not and cannot co-exist with non-native trout in the same waters. The rule proposes designating millions of acres of the Sierra Nevada as critical and essential habitat for the frogs. Most of that area is presently occupied by trout (and not frogs) and most of it is popular for fishing. Following designation, no federal or state agency could legally justify maintaining a healthy fish population in these areas. See 16 U.S.C 1536(a)(2). Thus, the primary, predictable and inevitable effect of the proposed designation is the elimination of fish from waters designated as critical habitat.
The elimination or reduction of fish in this area would create an immense environmental impact to these waters and to the life and livelihood of all who live and work in this area. Accordingly, a fundamental inquiry of the rulemaking must be the impact of eliminating or curtailing fish in the designated waters. This drastic change to the mountain environment as well as the local economic and social impacts of a designation must be analyzed. Failure to do so would violate the Endangered Species Act mandate to consider the economic and other relevant impacts of a critical habitat decision. See 16 U.S.C. 1533(b)(2).
Regrettably, to this point the USFWS has shown no inclination to do an appropriate analysis. In fact, USFWS spokespersons have stated that the effects of the designation cannot be determined or analyzed until after the designation is complete and management plans are developed by other agencies. These statements defy credulity. The USFWS rulemaking makes it abundantly clear that allowing trout in critical frog habitat is entirely inconsistent with the critical habitat designation. Agency decisions subsequent to a designation will not evaluate the impacts of eliminating trout since they will have no choice but to do so. If the USFWS fails to evaluate the full impacts of the proposed designation, those impacts will escape analysis altogether. This result would be unlawful under both the Endangered Species and the National Environmental Policy Acts.
Such analysis is fundamentally important because any thorough and fair analysis of the need for and impacts of this designation would lead to a significantly scaled back proposal for the following reasons:
- There is already an effective State program that enhances frog populations in higher, more remote waters while improving the fishing experience in lower waters. Designating those lower waters as critical habitat would eliminate this balanced approach and dilute the State’s strategy of encouraging frogs in the most prime locations. The USFWS must consider ongoing state efforts to protect a species. 16 U.S.C. 1533(b)(1)(A).
- As the State’s approach illustrates, the entirely of the proposed critical habitat is not “essential for the conservation of the species.” 16 U.S.C. 1532(5)(A)(ii).
- The largest current threat to the frog is a fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), which is spreading throughout the Sierra and decimating yellow-legged frog populations. Thus, it is not prudent (as defined in 50 C.F.R. 424.12) to designate these large areas as critical habitat because the designation “would not be beneficial to the species.” It is far more prudent to follow the State’s approach of limiting critical frog habitat to select prime lakes and associated terrain where there is a chance to protect and study the frog populations.
- The proposed designation, which includes millions of acres not currently occupied by the yellow-legged frogs, comes perilously close to violating 16 USC 1532 which states that (except in special circumstances) “critical habitat shall not include the entire geographical area which can be occupied by the threatened or endangered species.” The proposal designates areas “of similar extent to the historic range [of the frog] and therefore sufficient for the conservation of the species.” 78 F.R. 24523.
- The impact to the tourist and fishing industries of eliminating one of the primary attractions to the area, and the impact to the local residents, many of whom live here so that they may recreate in the Sierra, outweigh any potential benefit to yellow-legged frogs.
An accurate and effective analysis, including acknowledgment that the frog does not currently exist in most of the habitat proposed for designation, would demonstrate that the proposed designation is unwise as it would not substantially benefit these species while causing great economic and social harm to the residents of our area. Such an analysis is not only required by statute, but is necessary to provide fundamental fairness to the many people who would be adversely affected by the designation.