The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to list the coquí llanero, Puerto Rico's smallest tree frog, as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). At the same time, it proposes to designate 615 acres of land in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, as critical habitat for the species.
The dime-sized coquí llanero is found only in the wetland acreage proposed as critical habitat. This seasonally flooded wetland includes essential vegetation for the survival of the coqui llanero, including ferns, bulltongue arrowhead, flatsedges, spike rushes, vines, and grasses. If the critical habitat designation is finalized by the Service, the Department of Defense and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico would need to consult with the Service before any development could take place.
“As the demand to revitalize towns and transform impacted lands into productive areas increases, we must find ways to protect and restore the lands that are most important to the coqui llanero's’ survival while responsibly promoting sustainable development for the benefit of the people,” said Edwin Muñiz, supervisor of the Service's Caribbean Ecological Services Field Office.
In addition to urban development, the coquí llanero is threatened by many factors, including habitat degradation for flood control projects and competition from invasive wetland plant species. It also is challenged by its highly specialized ecological requirements and limited population distribution, low reproductive capacity, water and soil pollution, use of herbicides, brush fires, and inadequate regulations for its protection.
The ESA makes it illegal to kill, harm or otherwise "take" a listed species. The ESA also requires federal agencies to ensure actions they authorize, fund, or undertake do not jeopardize the existence of listed species, and directs the Service to work with federal agencies and other partners to develop and carry out recovery efforts for those species. Listing also focuses attention on the needs of the species, encouraging conservation efforts by other federal, state, and local agencies, conservation groups, and other organizations and individuals.
Critical habitat is a term defined in the Endangered Species Act. It refers to specific geographic areas that are essential to the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and which may require special management considerations or protection. The designation of critical habitat would help ensure that federal agencies and the public are aware of the coqui llanero's habitat needs and proper consultation is conducted by federal agencies when required by law.
A critical habitat designation does not set up a preserve or refuge and only applies to situations where federal funding or a federal permit is involved. It does not allow government or public access to private land. Federal agencies that undertake, fund or permit activities that may affect critical habitat are required to consult with the Service to ensure such actions do not adversely modify or destroy designated critical habitat.
Written comments on the proposal to list the coqui llanero as an endangered species with critical habitat will be accepted by December 12, 2011.
The proposed rule can be found at www.fws.gov/caribbean/es/CoquiLlanero. Federal Register Notice
If a species is listed, federal agencies must ensure that activities they authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the species or destroy or adversely modify its critical habitat.
The coqui llanero has a yellow to yellowish brown body. Its nasal passages are prominent, and a ridge connects them behind the snout tip, giving the tip a somewhat squared-off appearance. The coqui llanero has the highest frequency call among all 17 species of tree frogs. The sound is so high it is easily overpowered by other noises and very hard to detect. The call consists of a series of short high-pitched notes with call duration varying from four to 21 seconds.