County critiques yellow-legged frog studies
Congressman Tom McClintock and seven other California representatives successfully petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to extend the public comment period regarding the mountain yellow-legged frog and Yosemite toad. The federal agency has proposed listing the two amphibians as endangered species and recommended a critical habitat designation that would effectively close about 2 million acres in the Sierra Nevada and foothills to most public activities.
The original deadline was June 24, but after urgent complaints from multiple jurisdictions that they needed at least 90 days more to study the issue as it related to them, USFWS Acting Regional Director Alexandra Pitts granted an extension through Nov. 18.
McClintock sponsored a forum Aug. 6 in Sonora that featured a PowerPoint show by Pitts and presentations by representatives from Tuolumne, Calaveras, Siskiyou and El Dorado counties. Mike Applegarth, principal analyst with the Chief Administrative Office, represented El Dorado County.
Controversy surrounds the “science” related to the mountain yellow-legged frog, less the two other species listed by the USFWS, the Yosemite Toad and the southern mountain yellow-legged frog, which is described as a separate and distinct population.
The federal agency asserts that non-native trout, a specific fungus and human activity are responsible for a serious decline in the Sierra populations of the MYL Frog. Introduction of non-native trout to the frog’s habitat is a result of human activity as it represents fish-planting by public and private agencies.
Fish and Wildlife documents cite about 300 scientific studies that tend to support that conclusion at first reading, according to Applegarth.
Applegarth shared his pre-conference notes with the Mountain Democrat last week. In his introduction, he acknowledges that he is a “local government analyst,” who “like many in the audience today have no formal scientific training.”
He continues, however, to note that he discovered inconsistencies between the existing studies and the conclusions reached by the USFWS. The federal agency concludes that “recreational activities, dams and water diversions, livestock grazing, timber management, road construction and fire management” have “degraded habitat in ways that have compromised the frogs capacity to sustain viable populations,” Applegarth quotes.
And while the documentation is “overwhelming,” he writes, “the science is not overwhelming, only its application. In other words, the ‘science’ doesn’t appear to make the case that U.S. Fish and Wildlife suggests.”
Highlighting elements of some of those studies, Applegarth writes that the direct effects of recreation activities on the frog’s decline “have not been implicated” and that “studies have not been conducted to determine” such effects. Likewise, he quotes, “The extent of the impact to mountain yellow-legged frog populations from habitat loss or modification due to (dams and water diversion) has not been quantified.”
Citing his review of the scientific literature, Applegarth notes that the impact of grazing, timber harvesting and fire management activities has not been adequately studied and states, “In short the premise that the decline in species population is due to human activity is unsubstantiated.”
What is killing the yellow-legged frog? Non-native trout, planted in previously “fishless” ponds and streams, have been identified as a significant cause of depredation. More deadly, however, has been disease from a specific fungus known as “(Bd)” which has been called a “worldwide amphibian epidemic.”
On its own Website, the U.S. National Park Service describes only these two factors as the culprits causing decline of the mountain yellow-legged frog.
In his and fellow representatives’ written request to the USFWS, McClintock describes the impact to the local economy as “devastating” if the frog listings and designations of critical habitat become policy. Proposed restrictions on logging, mining, recreation, grazing, fishing and fish stocking pose such a severe threat that the public needs adequate time to prepare responses and plan ways to deal with the issues, McClintock says in his request for a time extension.
The extension to November is a first step in what is known to be a lengthy process that will include environmental impact statements (federal version of an EIR), periods of public comment, publication of draft EIS, more public comment and preparation of a final EIS.