Fear of frog habitat

by Charles James

mountain_yellow_legged_frog.jpgKermit the Frog probably hasn’t caused as much excitement and dismay as the mountain yellow-legged frog has in recent months for local politicians and residents of Inyo and Mono Counties, but then Kermit has a better publicist.

With thousands of acres of backcountry lakes being proposed as critical habitat for the Sierra-Nevada yellow-legged frog, Mountain yellow-legged frog, and the Yosemite Toad under the Endangered Species Act, the Inyo County Board of Supervisors recently expressed increasing alarm at the potential “socio-economic” impact the proposed critical habitat will have on local communities dependent on tourism, especially as there are a host of other endangered species found in Inyo County also being proposed; eight to be exact. The supervisors fear the “cumulative effect” of so many endangered species being listed not just in Inyo County, but also in the dozens of proposed endangered species listings in surrounding counties.

According to the California Fish and Wildlife the Mountain yellow-legged frogs in the Sierra Nevada live in high mountain lakes, ponds, tarns, and streams−largely in areas that were glaciated as recently as 10,000 years ago. There were no fish in the lakes until the mid-1800s when miners and settlers began bringing stock fish from other areas of the state to plant in the local waters, especially several varieties of trout.

Supervisor  Linda Arcularius noted that even though the recent report from USFW said there would be no negative recreational impact, she could not understand how that could be as the greatest threat to the yellow-legged frog comes from the amphibian chytrid fungus and not from grazing or even the fish. The fungus, Arcularius noted, is spread by humans crossing into the critical habitat and carrying it over to another critical habitat literally on the bottom of their boots. “So how,” she asked, “can you stop that spread without restricting access which would affect recreation?”

The board discussed a proposed draft letter response to Secretary Jewell of the Interior Department expressing concern of the “cumulative effects” of so many endangered species on the economy of rural counties.

Associate Planner Elaine Kabala explained to the board that the endangered species proposed within Inyo County over the next five years besides the yellow-legged frog include the Armargosa tryonia (fresh water snail), Mojave ground squirrel, Mojave fringe-toed lizard, Navares Spring naucorid bug, Mono County Basin sage grouse, and the Western Yellow-billed cuckoo. Each, Kabala explained, would have its own economic impact study. Added to the that would be the species designated as endangered in the adjacent counties.

After some minor adjustments to the draft letter, it was unanimously approved.

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5 Responses to Fear of frog habitat

  1. baby jesus February 7, 2014 at 9:46 am #

    when recreation is outlawed, only outlaws will recreate…

  2. Desert Tortoise February 3, 2014 at 10:38 am #

    Right now all i see are rumors of restrictions, and people taking those rumors and running, really running, with them to jump to conclusions.

    The Federal government has placed no restrictions on use of the Sierra back country and has, so far, not announced any plans to do so. All the rest of this is based on assumptions that are not based on any objective evidence. The USFW report states there will be no negative recreational impacts, yet the County BOS and those posting here jump to the conclusion there will be.

    • RandyKeller February 4, 2014 at 12:08 pm #


      There aren’t restrictions yet because the endangered species and critical habitat designations having been made yet. Once those designations take effect, the restrictions will be inevitable and it will be far too late to do anything about it.

      Here is the logic, based on the Endangered Species Act: one, a critical habitat designation for an endangered species requires all federal agencies to conduct themselves in the area designated to aid the recovery of the endangered species; two, most evidence as well as the Fish & Wildlife Service published rulemaking are abundantly clear that trout are a threat to the frogs and that the frogs will not recover in harmony with the fish; three, the Forest Service has great permitting and planning power over the federal lands and will be required to use its powers to aid the recovery of the frog; thus, the Forest Service will be required to manage Forest lands to discourage the abundance of trout to aid the recovery of the frog.

      This is not paranoia, it is the predictable outcome of the law and the designation. The restrictions will happen over a period of years as plans are made and permits issued and lawsuits are filed, but they are inevitable. It makes no sense to be the hypothetical frog in the slowly heating pot of water, not recognizing what is happening until you are served up for dinner.

      The sad part is that this is not necessary. State Fish & Wildlife has for years cleared trout out of prime frog habitat, allowing the frogs to rebound, while improving trout habitat in other areas. By making all areas prime habitat for the frog, this strategy will be out the window as far as the feds are concerned.

  3. RandyKeller February 2, 2014 at 2:15 pm #

    The economic impact study is misleading and essentially useless. The study only accounts for the costs to the feds of their responsibilities if the designation goes through. It does not even attempt to study the costs to local businesses and economies from the elimination of fishing activities in the mountains and other restrictions on recreation. Fish and disease are the major threats to the frogs. It would be totally inconsistent for the federal agencies to continue to allow stocking in critical habitat areas, and their forest plans will be required to work on ways to eliminate fish from critical habitat areas so the frogs will have an easier go of it. It is inevitable that fishing in Sierra will be phased out – the proposed critical habitat will cover huge portions of the mountains in Inyo County which will be no fish zones. (See the maps on the Inyo Planning Dept. website.)

    It is inexcusable that this federal agency is considering a decision with this type of impact without even acknowledging how the decision will harm all who live here. There are reasonable ways to try to protect the frogs, but making huge portions of the mountains off-limits to fish is not one of them. And with the frog disease spreading throughout the mountains, it is quite possible that the fish will be eliminated and the frogs will go too. The FWS is required to consider the effect of a critical habitat designation on people to determine if the designation is warranted. This study completely fails in that regard.

    An honest effort would weigh the loss of fishing and some other recreation in the mountains against the benefit to the frog from the designation. That is not happening.

  4. Jason Bauerfield February 1, 2014 at 11:02 am #

    I used to see these frogs around Forester Pass quite often, and even cooked a few back in the 80s. It is a shame that people are spreading this disease around the high country and wiping out the frogs. I would have no problem restricting recreation if it meant the frog populations would have a real chance of bouncing back. If we don’t do something, what you gonna do when they say “goodbye”? What you gonna do when they’re gone?’

    Also, the attitudes of some packer outfits annoys me. They act like they own the backcountry when in fact, we ALL own it. So I say put this to a vote. I think, on balance, that people will support a temporary moratorium on recreation to save a species on the brink.


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