Pacific Southwest Region
California, Nevada and Klamath Basin

Safe Harbor Agreement at San Luis Obispo Ranch Will Help in Recovery of Federally Listed California Red-Legged Frogs

Apr 26, 2012

For Immediate Release   April 26, 2012                               

Contact: Lois Grunwald, 805/644-1766, ext 332

Safe Harbor Agreement at San Luis Obispo Ranch Will Help in Recovery of Federally Listed California Red-Legged Frogs

More than 20 years ago, the owner of Swallow Creek Ranch in San Luis Obispo County began to replace nonnative grasses with native plants and bring back riparian vegetation along Swallow Creek. Today, cliff swallows breed and nest on the property and a large colony of Monarch butterflies winter in the ranch’s eucalyptus grove.

Following in its conservation-minded tradition, the ranch recently entered into a Safe Harbor Agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) to benefit the federally threatened California red-legged frog.

The Service and Swallow Creek Ranch—a cattle ranch just north of the city of Cayucos—worked collaboratively to identify management activities that would benefit the threatened California red-legged frog.

The California red-legged frog is the largest native frog in the western United States, ranging in size from 1.5 to 5 inches long, but is significantly smaller than the introduced bullfrog, one of its biggest predators. California red-legged frogs have been found from sea level to about 5,000 feet, prefer dense vegetation near water, and may be found in a variety of habitats. They breed in aquatic habitats such as streams, ponds, marshes and stock ponds. During wet weather, they may move through upland habitats. California red-legged frogs spend considerable time resting and feeding in riparian habitat. They eat mostly invertebrates and are more active at night.

Under a Safe Harbor Agreement, non-federal landowners voluntarily undertake management activities on their property that would provide a net conservation benefit to species listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), such as enhancing, restoring, or maintaining habitat for the listed species while continuing their current land-use practices, such as cattle grazing. In return for voluntary conservation commitments, a permit associated with the Safe Harbor Agreement authorizes incidental take of listed species that may result from actions described in the agreement and guarantees landowners that they will not be subject to property-use restrictions if they increase the number of listed species on their property. Also, at the end of the agreement period landowners may return their property to the baseline conditions that existed at the beginning of the Safe Harbor Agreement.

As identified in the Safe Harbor Agreement with Swallow Creek Ranch, the ranch will help the California red-legged frog by maintaining a 1.75-acre pond for breeding and reproduction. The ranch will also maintain a fence along perennial Swallow Creek and enhance the habitat along the creek’s length, which is populated by California red-legged frogs.

As part of the agreement, the ranch will also continue to remove invasive plants and plant native species. The native vegetation that is being restored along the creek, such as willows, provide protection from predators and cover for California red-legged frogs.

“We are excited to enter into the Safe Harbor Agreement,” said Paul Grafton of Swallow Creek Ranch. “For years, we've tried to balance ranching with protecting the land. The SHA gives us a long term plan as well as specific tools to help enhance the habitat of red-legged frogs on the property's watersheds.  The staff at the USFW has been very helpful and supportive in helping craft the best plan for our situation.”

“We believe the Safe Harbor Agreement with Swallow Creek Ranch has established a valuable partnership that will promote the conservation of the California red-legged frog,” said Mary Root, the Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office’s assistant field supervisor for Conservation Partnerships.

The ESA provides a critical safety net for America’s native fish, wildlife and plants. The Service is working to actively engage conservation partners and the public in the search for improved and innovative ways to conserve and recover imperiled species. To learn more about the Endangered Species Program, visit


To view the Safe Harbor Agreement at Swallow Creek Ranch and for information about the California red-legged frog and other federally listed species, go to

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