Frog delay needed

By From page A4 | June 24, 2013

Congressman Tom McClintock June 11 wrote the director the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to request a 90-day  extension of its comment period about the yellow-legged frog.

The extra time is needed for local agencies to comment and to fully analyze the impact of listing this frog as “an endangered species” and designating 2 million acres as “critical habitat.”

USFWS has a tendency to go overboard on so-called critical habitat.

“Critical habitat designations will likely cause severe restrictions on land access and could limit or forbid activities such as grazing, trout stocking, logging, mining, and recreational use resulting in a devastating impact on the local economy,” McClintock wrote.

Trout stocking in the high Sierra has been discontinued by the state fish and game department, so it is less of a concern, but the other issues listed by McClintock are just the tip of the iceberg.

McClintock also pointed out that a big chunk of the Sierra is already wilderness area. And in the case of the Yosemite toad, it is covered by a national park, which hasn’t succeeded in saving the Yosemite toad for at least 20 years.

As far as we’re concerned, the Yosemite toad has been inadequately studied. More than 10 years ago researchers found that deformities in frogs was not because of a hole in the ozone layer, as assumed, but was a result of a parasite transmitted by bird poop from great blue herons. Regarding the yellow legged frog, there has been some breakthrough research conducted by San Francisco State University.

El Dorado County should invited a representative from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the state Fish and Wildlife Agency and Assistant Professor Vance Vredenburg from SFSU. Prof. Vredenburg and his graduate student, Natalie Reeder, discovered what’s killing off the yellow-legged frogs. Pacific chorus frogs are migrating into yellow legged frog territory and carrying a fungus to which the chorus frog are largely immune  and the yellow-legged frogs are not. They’re dropping like flies, in fact. Vredenburg, however, has saved whole ponds of yellow-legged frogs by giving the frogs antifungal baths. That may be whistling past the graveyard, though.

“We found that a vast majority of the Pacific chorus frogs don’t die or show symptoms even with surprisingly high levels of infection,” said Reeder. “They  are able to go about life as normal, roving over land and carrying the disease to new locations.”

“Because it is a water-borne fungus, scientists assumed it would spread downstream through rivers and lakes. But in the Sierra Nevada, the epidemic moved uphilll,” stated a March 2012 press release from SFSU.

The Pacific chorus frog is found all over the Pacific Coast from Baja to British Columbia. It has sticky feet and can climb trees and survive for long periods out of water. It is the frog everyone in the foothills hears when they open their windows at night.

“Because of the far-reaching and damaging effects these listings would have on local economies and communities, it is imperative that you allow for maximum public input before taking further steps forward.  The proposed rules include 100 pages of Federal Register detailing more than a decade of legal issues, previous federal actions, dozens of scientific studies, and recent research culminating in these proposals,” McClintock wrote. “There were only 41 business days from the time the proposed rules were published in the Federal Register to the June 24 comment deadline.”

This listing and critical habitat designation were cooked up as part of an April 24 deal between the USFWS and the Center for Biological Diversity, an Arizona-based environmentalist organization.

“We have also received reports that Fish and Wildlife staff are refusing to meet with localities to explain this proposed listing,”McClintock wrote to the USFWS director. “FWS’s own guidance on endangered status notes that comments ‘merely’ stating support or opposition will not be considered, and that the decision is to be made ‘solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available.’”

If they want scientific data then they should read what has been published by Prof. Vredenburg. It is scientific and sobering. Habitat designation isn’t a do-all-end-all of endangered species.

“Instead of rushing to designate new critical habitat, we ask the service to carefully evaluate the protections these species receive under existing law while affording local communities the necessary time to properly examine and comment on this proposal,” McClintock wrote.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should heed the congressman’s request and delay action for 90 days and send representatives out to the local agencies throughout the Sierra foothills. Two or more counties could hold joint hearings.

Mountain Democrat

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