SC-NC-N-G 96-26

Refer: Patricia Foulk, Sacramento, California - 916/979-2710

Megan Durham, Washington, D.C. - 202/208-5650

May 20, 1996

FABLED CALIFORNIA RED-LEGGED FROG LISTED AS THREATENED

A rare California frog species that may have been the original "celebrated jumping frog of Calaveras County" today leaped off the pages of Mark Twain's short story and onto the U.S. List of Endangered and Threatened Species.

The Interior Department's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said today it would list the California red-legged frog as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act and is already working with State, county, and Federal officials and private landowners on cooperative approaches to conserve the frog. The announcement complies with a Federal court order requiring the Service to make decision on listing the frog by May 20. The frog is already the recognized by the State of California as a "species of special concern."

"There has been concern about the status of the red-legged frog for several years and many forward-thinking agencies and developers have already taken this species into account in their planning efforts," said Fish and Wildlife Service Director Mollie Beattie. For example, she said, the frog's needs are already being addressed at Fort Ord, in the San Francisco Bay Area (Bay Area Rapid Transit District - BART) and around the Los Vaqueros Reservoir (Contra Costa Water District). Conservation measures for the frog have also already been included under several habitat conservation plans.

"The Contra Costa Water District and the Fish and Wildlife Service have been working cooperatively on fish and wildlife issues including the California red-legged frog," said Gary Darling, project manager for the Los Vaqueros Reservoir Project. "We are sure this positive partnership will continue with the listing."

"We are pleased with our working relationship with the Fish and Wildlife Service on mitigation for the San Francisco garter snake. These measures will also benefit the California red-legged frog," said Richard White, BART general manager. "BART is proud to partner with the Service in support of these important native California animals."

Conservation measures for the frog will be made easier by the species' designation as "threatened," a less dire classification than "endangered." A "threatened" species is one that is likely to become endangered; an "endangered" species is one that is in danger of becoming extinct.

"The Endangered Species Act offers a great deal of flexibility, particularly for species listed as threatened, and the Fish and Wildlife Service will use the full flexibility of the law to find cooperative strategies that balance conservation with economic activities," Beattie said. Recovery planning efforts for the frog will begin immediately. Technical experts and representatives of affected groups will be included in this effort.

Beattie said sound management practices exist to protect the California red-legged frogs in most situations where there may be concerns about the impacts of development or other activities. Environmental requirements under California State law and other permitting processes already provide many of the protective measures needed by the frog. Options such as protecting riparian areas and reducing erosion also improve water quality and habitat for many species of fish and wildlife.

The largest native frog in the western United States, the red-legged frog ranges from 1.5 to 5 inches in length. It has an olive or brown back and a reddish-colored belly and undersides of the hind legs. It lives mostly in wetlands and streams that have deep water pools and dense stands of overhanging vegetation.

The frog was fairly widespread in California when Mark Twain wrote his famous story in 1865. Bullfrogs are popular in jumping frog competitions today, but there are no records of bullfrogs being introduced in California until 1896.

Today the red-legged frog has disappeared from 70 percent of its original range, and many of the remaining populations appear to be declining rapidly. It is known to occur in about 240 streams or drainages primarily in the central coastal area of California. Only three areas within its entire historic range may currently support more than 350 adults.

Over the last two decades, scientists have noted a widespread decline of frogs and other amphibian species, the causes of which are not fully understood. The decline of the California red-legged frog is attributed to the spread of exotic predators such as bullfrogs, and the widespread habitat changes that have fragmented habitat, isolated populations, and degraded streams. Its decline signals a loss of diversity and environmental quality in wetlands and streams that are essential to clean water and to the survival of many fish and wildlife species.

The California red-legged frog was harvested for food in the San Francisco Bay area and the Central Valley during the late 1800's and early 1900's. About 80,000 frogs were harvested annually between 1890 and 1900. The market eventually dwindled as red-legged frogs became more rare, but the species continued to decline as agricultural and urban development eliminated its habitat. It was gone from the floor of the Central Valley by 1960. Remaining populations in the Sierra foothills were fragmented and later eliminated by reservoir construction, exotic predators, grazing, and drought.

In 1992 the Fish and Wildlife Service was petitioned to list the frog by several scientists. Following a review of the frog's status, in February 1994 the Service proposed to list it as endangered. As a result of surveys and additional information received during the public comment period on the proposal, 54 additional drainages occupied by California red-legged frogs were identified. Based on this information that the frog was more common within its current range than previously thought, the Service decided the frog should be classified as "threatened."

The red-legged frog is the first species to be added to the U.S. List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants following a year-long Congressional moratorium on listings which began in April 1995 and was lifted by President Clinton as part of the 1996 omnibus appropriations law. During the moratorium, the Service was sued by the Environmental Defense Center to proceed with a final listing. The Service was ordered by the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California to proceed with a final decision by May 20, 1996. The final rule designating the California red-legged frog as a threatened species will be published in the Federal Register during the week of May 20.

"Threatened and endangered species are like nature's smoke alarms, warning us of problems in our environment that could ultimately affect people as well as wildlife," said Mollie Beattie. "The red-legged frog holds a unique place in America's folklore. Protecting it will help save both our environment and a priceless part of our cultural heritage."

* * *

("You never see a frog so modest and straightfor'ard as he was, for all he was so gifted. And when it come to fair and square jumping on a dead level, he could get over more ground at one straddle than any animal of his breed you ever see. Jumping on a dead level was his strong suit, you understand; and when it come to that, Smiley would ante up money on him as long as he had a red. Smiley was monstrous proud of his frog, and well he might be, for fellers that had traveled and been everywheres all said he laid over any frog that ever they see." -- Mark Twain, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.")

x x x