Photo Credit: Mark Jennings
CRITICAL HABITAT DESIGNATED FOR CALIFORNIA RED-LEGGED FROG
SACRAMENTO, Calif.Responding to a court order, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today designated 4.1 million acres in 28 California counties as critical habitat for the threatened California red-legged frog. This native amphibian is widely believed to have inspired Mark Twains fabled short story, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County."
About 32 percent of the 4.1 million acres designated is in public ownership and managed by either Federal, State or local government entities. The remainder of the acreage is in private ownership. The lands are located in the following counties: Alameda, Butte, Contra Costa, El Dorado, Fresno, Kern, Los Angeles, Marin, Mariposa, Merced, Monterey, Napa, Plumas, Riverside, San Benito, San Diego, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano, Sonoma, Stanislaus, Tehama, Tuolumne and Ventura.
"We received more than 2,000 comments on our September 11, 2000 proposal for this species," said Michael J. Spear, manager of the Services California/Nevada Operations office. "As a result of information received on the proposal and our improved mapping capability, we were able to eliminate areas that were not essential to the conservation of the California red-legged frog. This final critical habitat designation reflects a reduction of approximately 1.3 million acres from our original proposal."
Vandenberg Air Force Base was excluded from the final designation because its integrated natural resource management plan provides adequate management for frogs on the base. Other military lands, including Camp Parks and Camp San Luis Obispo, were excluded because the Service believes that the benefits of excluding these areas outweighed the benefits of including them. "We are already working with the military on species management programs for the frog and other threatened and endangered species," Spear said. "Our goal is to work cooperatively with all landowners and local governments to recover this threatened amphibian that for many Americans has become a beloved icon of Californias Gold Rush era."
Under the Endangered Species Act, critical habitat refers to specific geographic areas that are essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and may require special management considerations. These areas do not necessarily have to be occupied by the species at the time of designation. A designation does not set up a preserve or refuge and only applies to situations where Federal funding or a Federal permit is involved. It has no regulatory impact on private landowners taking actions on their land that do not involve Federal funding or permits.
While the Service is designating approximately 4.1 million acres of critical habitat, not all the areas within those broad boundaries have habitat elements important to the California red-legged frog. The Service will require consultations only in those areas that contain all of the physical and biological features necessary for the species survival. In addition, existing towns, shopping centers, roads and similar developed areas would not be considered critical habitat, and Federal agencies would not need to consult with the Service on actions that affect only those areas.
The California red-legged frog was listed as threatened in 1996, under the Endangered Species Act. At the time of the listing, the Service concluded that designation of critical habitat was not prudent for the frog because such designation would not benefit the species and could make it more vulnerable to increased acts of habitat vandalism, destruction or unauthorized collection.
Todays announcement results from a lawsuit filed against the Service in 1999 by the EarthJustice Legal Defense Fund on behalf of the Jumping Frog Institute, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation. In December 1999, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ordered the Service to propose critical habitat for the species by August 31, 2000 and to issue a final rule by December 29, 2000. The Service later petitioned the Court and the plaintiffs for an extension, citing the need to extend the comment period, and all parties agreed to extend the deadline of the publication of the final rule until March 1, 2001.
The largest native frog in the western United States, the California red-legged frog ranges from 1.5 to 5 inches in length. An adult frog is distinguished by its unique coloring: an olive, brown, gray or reddish back marked by small black flecks and larger dark blotches and a rusty-red hue to its belly and the undersides of its hind legs. The species breeds in aquatic habitats such as streams, ponds, marshes and stock ponds. During wet weather, frogs may move through upland habitats.
The historic range of the California red-legged frog extended coastally from the vicinity of Point Reyes National Seashore, Marin County, California, and inland from the vicinity of Redding, Shasta County, California, south to northwestern Baja California, Mexico. The frog has sustained a 70 percent reduction in its geographic range in California as a result of habitat loss and alteration, overexploitation, and introduction of exotic predators. Today, the California red-legged frog is found primarily in coastal drainages of central California. Monterey, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties support the greatest amount of currently occupied habitat. Only four areas within the entire historic range of this species may currently harbor more than 350 adults.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses more than 531 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.
California Red-Legged Frog
Critical Habitat Units
Unit 1 North Fork Feather Unit - Unit 1 consists of drainages within the North Fork Feather River watershed, some 115,939 acres in Butte and Plumas counties. The Plumas and Lassen national forests manage about 81 percent of this proposed unit, and the majority of the remaining area is privately owned. One of only three existing populations of California red-legged frogs are found in the French Creek watershed in Butte County.
Unit 2 South Fork Feather Unit Unit 2 has been deleted from the final critical habitat determination.
Unit 3 Weber Creek-Cosumnes Unit - Unit 3 consists of drainages in the Weber Creek and North Fork Cosumnes River watersheds in El Dorado County. The unit, with one of only three known existing populations of California red-legged frogs in the Sierra Nevada, encompasses approximately 59,531 acres, of which 36 percent is within the El Dorado National Forest and 64 percent is privately owned.
Unit 4 South Fork Calavares River Unit - Unit 4 has been deleted from the final critical habitat determination.
Unit 5 Yosemite Unit - Unit 5 consists of drainages found in the tributaries of the Tuolumne River and Jordan Creek, a tributary to the Merced River, in Tuolumne and Mariposa counties. The unit encompasses approximately 124,336 acres, of which 100 percent is managed by Stanislaus National Forest or the National Park Service.
Unit 6 Headwaters of Cottonwood Creek Unit - Unit 6 consists of drainages found within the headwaters of Cottonwood and Red Bank creeks in Tehama County. The unit encompasses approximately 38,300 acres, of which approximately 18 percent is within the boundaries of the Mendocino National Forest; the majority of the remaining 82 percent is privately owned.
Unit 7 Cleary Preserve Unit - Unit 7 consists of drainages found within the watersheds that form the tributaries to Pope Creek in Napa County. The unit encompasses approximately 34,087 acres, of which approximately 88 percent is privately owned; the remaining 12 percent is managed by Federal or State agencies.
Unit 8 Annadel State Park Preserve Unit - Unit 8 consists of the Upper Sonoma Creek watershed found partially within Annadel State Park in Sonoma County. The unit encompasses approximately 6,326 acres, of which approximately 76 percent is privately owned and 24 percent is managed by the California Department of Parks and Recreation.
Unit 9 Stebbins Cold Canyon Preserve Unit -Unit 9 consists of drainages found within and adjacent to Stebbins Cold Canyon Preserve and the Quail Ridge Wilderness Preserve in Napa and Solano counties. The unit is comprised of watersheds that form Capell Creek, including Wragg Canyon, Markley Canyon, Steel Canyon and the Wild Horse Canyon watershed. The unit encompasses 21,227 acres, of which approximately 75 percent is privately owned and 25 percent is managed by the University of California Natural Reserve System, the Quail Ridge Wilderness Conservancy and the Bureau of Land Management.
Unit 10 Sears Point Unit - Unit 10 consists of Stage Gulch and Lower Petaluma River watersheds, tributaries to the Petaluma River. This unit is located in and adjacent to Sears Point in Sonoma and Marin counties and encompasses approximately 10,771 acres, all of it privately owned.
Unit 11 American Canyon - Unit 11 consists of watersheds within and adjacent to American Canyon Creek and Sulphur Springs Creek in Napa and Solano counties. Watersheds within this unit include Fagan Creek, a tributary to the Napa River, the Jameson Canyon watershed, and the Sky Valley and Pine Lake watersheds that flow into Lake Herman. The unit encompasses approximately 27,779 acres, of which 99 percent is privately owned.
Unit 12 Point Reyes Unit - Unit 12 consists of watersheds within and adjacent to Bolinas Lagoon, Point Reyes and Tomales Bay in Marin and Sonoma counties. This unit encompasses approximately 200,572 acres; 44 percent is managed by the National Park Service, California Department of Parks and Recreation and the Marin Municipal Water District and 56 percent is privately owned.
Unit 13 Tiburon Peninsula Unit - Unit 13 consists of the Belvedere Lagoon watershed within and adjacent to the Tiburon Peninsula in Marin County. The unit encompasses approximately 1,554 acres, all of which is privately owned.
Unit 14 San Mateo-Northern Santa Cruz Unit - Unit 14 consists of coastal watersheds within San Mateo County and northern Santa Cruz County that drain into the Pacific Ocean. The unit encompasses approximately 237,955 acres, of which 83 percent is privately owned; the remaining 17 percent is primarily managed by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and the California Department of Parks and Recreation.
Unit 15 East Bay-Diablo Range Unit - Unit 15 consists of watersheds within Contra Costa, Alameda, San Joaquin, Santa Clara, Stanislaus, San Benito, Merced and Fresno counties. The unit encompasses approximately 1,053,850 acres, of which 87 percent is privately owned; the remaining 13 percent is managed in part by East Bay Regional Park District, East Bay Municipal Utilities District, Contra Costa Water District, Bureau of Reclamation, Department of Energy, California Department of Parks and Recreation, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, California Department of Fish and Game, Santa Clara Valley Water District and Department of Water Resources.
Unit 16 Pajaro River Unit - Unit 16 consists of portions of two watersheds that are part of the Pajaro River Drainage, the Flint Hills watershed in San Benito County and the Santa Clara Valley watershed in Santa Clara and San Benito counties. The unit encompasses approximately 48,247 acres, and is all privately owned.
Unit 17 Elkhorn Slough-Salinas River Unit - Unit 17 consists of coastal drainages in Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito counties. The unit encompasses approximately 165,067 acres, of which 93 percent is privately owned; the remaining 7 percent is managed by California Department of Parks and Recreation and the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve.
Unit 18 Carmel River Unit - Unit 18 consists of drainages comprising the Carmel River watershed in Monterey County. This unit encompasses approximately 155,620 acres, of which approximately 26 percent of the land is managed by the Los Padres National Forest and the California Department of Parks and Recreation, while the remaining 74 percent is privately owned.
Unit 19 The Pinnacles Unit - Unit 19 consists of two watersheds, Gloria Lake and George Hansen Canyon, in San Benito and Monterey counties. This unit encompasses approximately 27,309 acres, of which 57 percent is managed by the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management; the remaining 43 percent is privately owned.
Unit 20 Estrella River/Cholame Creek Unit - Unit 20 consists of the drainages comprising the Cholame Creek, Estrella River and the Saw Tooth Ridge watersheds in Monterey, San Luis Obispo and Kern counties. The unit encompasses approximately 394,325 acres, of which 99 percent is privately owned and the remaining 1 percent is federally managed.
Unit 21 San Simeon Unit-Morro Bay Unit - Unit 21 consists of the coastal watersheds of San Luis Obispo County from Arroyo de la Cruz south to Los Osos Creek. The unit encompasses approximately 209,445 acres, of which 94 percent is privately owned; the remaining 6 percent is managed by the California Department of Fish and Game and Federal agencies.
Unit 22 Lopez Lake-Arroyo Grande Creek - Unit 22 consists of the watersheds of Arroyo Grande Creek and its tributaries in San Luis Obispo County. The unit encompasses approximately 85,254 acres, of which 79 percent is privately owned and the remaining 21 percent is managed by Los Padres National Forest and the Bureau of Land Management.
Unit 23 Coastal Dunes Unit - Unit 23 consists of coastal watersheds comprising the coastal dune ponds from Arroyo Grande south to San Antonio Creek in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. The unit encompasses approximately 52,782 acres, of which 3 percent is managed by Federal, State and local municipalities (primarily the Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Parks and Recreation), with the remaining 97 percent in private ownership.
Unit 24 Santa Ynez River Unit - Unit 24 consists of watersheds forming the Santa Ynez River in Santa Barbara County. The unit encompasses approximately 244,004 acres, of which approximately 60 percent is privately owned; the remaining 40 percent is managed by the Bureau of Reclamation and the Los Padres National Forest.
Unit 25 Sisquoc River Unit - Unit 25 consists of watersheds forming the drainages of the Sisquoc River in Santa Barbara County. These include the Cherokee Spring, Ernest Blanco Spring, Horse Canyon, La Brea Creek, Manzano Creek and Peach Tree Spring watersheds. The unit encompasses approximately 121,785 acres, of which 39 percent is privately owned and 61 percent is managed by the Los Padres National Forest.
Unit 26 Coastal Santa Barbara Unit - Unit 26 consists of coastal tributaries west of Vandenberg Air Force Base, east to and including the Ellwood Canyon watershed in Santa Barbara County. The unit encompasses approximately 98,791 acres, of which 23 percent is managed by the Los Padres National Forest and the California Department of Parks and Recreation; the remaining 77 percent is privately owned.
Unit 27 Matilija-Sespe-Piru Creek Unit - This unit consists of watersheds that comprise portions of the Matilija, Sespe, and Piru Creek drainages in Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles Counties. The unit encompasses approximately 313,716 acres, of which 96 percent is managed by the Los Padres National Forest and 4 percent is privately owned.
Unit 28 San Francisquito-Amargosa Creek Unit - This unit consists of the drainages that consist of San Francisquito and Amargosa creeks in Los Angeles County, including all or parts of the Lancaster, Rock Creek, Acton, Bouquet Eastern, Mint Canyon and Sierra Pelona watersheds. The unit encompasses approximately 105,890 acres, of which 99 percent is managed by the Angeles National Forest.
Unit 29 Malibu Coastal Unit - This unit consists of the upper coastal watersheds in Ventura and Los Angeles counties that drain into the Pacific Ocean near Malibu, including the West Las Virgenes Canyon, Lindero Canyon, Sherwood, Triunfo Canyon, East Las Virgenes Canyon and Monte Nido watersheds. The unit encompasses approximately 52,475 acres, of which approximately 67 percent is privately owned and 33 percent is managed in part by the National Park Service, California Department of Parks and Recreation and local municipalities.
Unit 30 Santa Rosa Plateau/Santa Ana Mountains Unit -This unit consists of portions of the watersheds comprising the Santa Rosa Plateau and the Santa Ana Mountains in Riverside and San Diego counties, including Deluz Creek, Murrieta and San Mateo Canyon watersheds. The unit encompasses approximately 57,627 acres, of which approximately 69 percent is managed by the Forest Service and approximately 31 percent is privately owned (a portion of which is owned by the Nature Conservancy).
Unit 31 Tujunga Unit - This unit consists of portions of the Tujunga watersheds in Los Angeles County. The unit encompasses approximately 73,500 acres, of which approximately 100 percent is managed by the Forest Service (Angeles National Forest).
Life History of the California Red-Legged Frog
The California red-legged frog (Rana aurora draytonii) is the largest native frog in the western United States, ranging in size from 1.5 to 5 inches. The bodies of adult females are approximately one-inch longer than those of adult males.
The belly and hind legs of adult frogs are often red or salmon pink; the back is characterized by small black flecks and larger dark blotches on a background of brown, gray, olive or reddish-brown.
California red-legged frogs have been found from sea level to about 5,000 feet and may be found in a variety of habitats. The frogs breed in aquatic habitats such as streams, ponds, marshes and stock ponds. During wet weather, frogs may move through upland habitats. Frogs spend considerable time resting and feeding in riparian habitat. They mostly eat invertebrates and feed at night.
California red-legged frogs are relatively prolific breeders, usually laying egg masses during or shortly following heavy rainfall in late winter or early spring. Females can lay between 2,000 and 5,000 eggs in a single mass. The eggs are attached to bulrushes or cattails.
It takes between 6 to 14 days for the eggs to hatch and approximately 3.5 to 7 months for the tadpoles to develop into frogs. The highest rates of mortality for this species occur during the tadpole stage: less than one-percent of eggs hatched reach adulthood.
Tadpoles and young frogs hunt day and night. This constant activity makes them visible, and, consequently, more vulnerable to predators. Pacific tree frogs and California mice make up the majority of this species diet, with insects comprising the rest.
Historically, the California red-legged frog was found in 46 counties. Today only 26 counties support known populations of the frog, a loss of 70 percent of its former range.
Amphibians worldwide appear to be on the decline. If frogs begin showing signs of distress, it may be only a matter of time before other species are affected, including humans. Amphibians are good "indicators" of significant environmental changes that may go initially undetected by humans. Humans breathe through lungs, which are inside their bodies and thus protected from direct contact with air and water. Amphibians, however, breathe partially (and in some species, completely), through their skin, which is constantly exposed to the environment. Their bodies are much more vulnerable and sensitive to factors such as disease, pollution, toxic chemicals, radiation and habitat destruction. The worldwide occurrences of amphibian declines and deformities may be an early warning to us of serious ecosystem imbalances.
A good source for learning more about amphibians and efforts underway to halt their decline is on the worldwide web at http://frogweb.gov
Why is the California red-legged frog in trouble?
A. Over the last two decades, scientists have noted a widespread decline of frogs and other amphibian species, the causes of which arent fully understood. The decline of the California red-legged frog is attributed to the spread of exotic predators such as bullfrogs, and 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 most fish and wildlife species.
Q. What is being done to save the California red-legged frog?
A. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the California red-legged frog as a threatened species under the Federal Endangered Species Act in May 1996.
Recovery planning for this species got underway shortly after the 1996 listing with the formation of a recovery team including species experts, State and Federal agency representatives and stakeholders representing a variety of interests. Their efforts resulted in a comprehensive draft recovery plan, which will be used as a blueprint to recover the species.
Recovery plans detail the actions necessary to achieve self-sustaining, wild populations of listed species so they will no longer require protection under the Endangered Species Act. A recovery plan is an advisory document. Cooperation from private property owners is voluntary.
The Service released the draft recovery plan for the California red-legged frog for approximately six months of public review beginning in May 2000. The strategy for recovery will involve protecting existing populations by reducing threats; restoring and creating habitat that will be protected and managed in perpetuity; surveying and monitoring populations and conducting research on the biology of, and threats to, the species; and reestablishing populations of the species within the historic range. Comments received during the review will help the Service shape the final design of the recovery plan.
Q. What is critical habitat?
A. Critical habitat is defined as specific areas that have been found to be essential to the conservation of a federally listed species, and which may require special management considerations or protection. Critical habitat is determined using the best available scientific and commercial information about the physical and biological needs of the species.
These needs include: space for individual and population growth and for normal behavior;
food, water, light, air, minerals or other nutritional or physiological needs; cover or shelter; sites for breeding, reproduction and rearing of offspring; habitat that is protected from disturbance or is representative of the historical geographic and ecological distribution of a species..
Q. What are primary constituent elements?
A. The primary constituent elements for California red-legged frogs are aquatic and upland areas where suitable breeding and nonbreeding habitat is interspersed throughout the landscape and is interconnected by unfragmented dispersal habitat.
Specifically to be considered to have the primary constituent elements an area must include two (or more) suitable breeding locations, a permanent water source, associated uplands surrounding these water bodies up to 300 feet from the waters edge, all within 1.25 miles of one another and connected by barrier-free dispersal habitat that is at least 300 feet in width. When these elements are all present, all other essential aquatic habitat within 1.25 miles, and free of dispersal barriers, will require at least informal consultations with the Service.
Q. Does the designation of critical habitat create preserves?
A. No. The designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve or other conservation area. It does not allow government or public access to private lands and will not result in closure of the area to all access or use.
Q. What revisions did the Service make to the proposed critical habitat designation that are now reflected in the final rule?
A. Public comments resulted in four significant changes. These are (1) a reduction in the minimum mapping unit for defining critical habitat boundaries; (2) the modification and clarification of the primary constituent elements; (3) the removal of some lands where new information revealed they were unessential; the removal of Vandenberg Air Force Base, which has adequate management for frogs in place; and the exclusion, under section 4(b)(2) of Camp San Luis Obispo Army National Guard and Camp Parks Army Reserve Forces Training Area; and (4) the removal of proposed critical habitat unit 2 in Yuba County and unit 4 in Calaveras County.
Q. The Service originally proposed about 5.4 million acres as critical habitat for the California red-legged frog. The final designation is about 4.1 million acres. How did the Service make that determination?
A. Based on public comments received on the proposed designation maps and the availability of more current and precise Geographic Information System (GIS) data, we were able to refine the minimum mapping unit for the designation from planning watersheds (3,000-10,000 acres average size) to a 100-meter grid that approximates the boundaries of land essential to California red-legged frog conservation delineated from digital aerial photography. We then overlaid the proposed critical habitat boundaries on the newer imagery data and removed lands that were not essential to the conservation of these frogs. This resulted in the removal of significant urban or developed areas. The overall refinement of critical habitat boundaries due to the revised mapping scale and the removal of some land explained in the answer to the previous question resulted in a reduction of approximately 1.3 million acres as reflected in the final rule.
If you would like to find out if your property is included in the critical habitat designation, please contact the following Fish and Wildlife offices:
For information about Alameda, Butte, Contra Costa, El Dorado, Fresno, Kern, Marin, Mariposa, Merced, Napa, Plumas, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, Sonoma, Stanislaus, Tehama, and Tuolumne, counties, contact the Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2800 Cottage Way, Suite W. 2605, Sacramento, California 95825 (telephone 916/414-6600; facsimile 916/414-6712).
For information about Monterey, Los Angeles, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Ventura counties, contact the Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2394 Portola Road, Suite B, Ventura, California 93003 (telephone 805/644-1766; facsimile 805/644-3958).
For information about areas in the San Gabriel Mountains of Los Angeles County or Riverside and San Diego counties, contact the Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2730 Loker Avenue West, Carlsbad, California 92008 (telephone 760/431-9440; facsimile 760/431-9624).
Q. Was the public given opportunities to comment on proposed critical habitat for the California red-legged frog?
A. Yes. The Service published the proposed rule to designate critical habitat for the California red-legged frog in the Federal Register on September 11, 2000, requesting public input on the specifics of the proposal, including information, policy, treatment of habitat conservation plans and proposed critical habitat boundaries as provided in the proposed rule. The proposed rule was distributed to a mailing list of more than 2,000 agencies, organizations and individuals. In addition, our
action was widely reported in daily and weekly newspapers throughout areas proposed for designation. The first comment period closed on October 11, 2000. We reopened the comment period from October 19, 2000, to November 20, 2000, to allow for additional comments on the proposed rule. The comment period was then reopened from December 21, 2000 to January 22, 2001 to accept comments on both the proposed designation and the draft economic analysis.
Furthermore, we held four public hearings on the proposed rule: Ventura, September 19, 2000; San Luis Obispo, September 21, 2000; Dublin, September 26, 2000; and Sacramento, September 28, 2000. Transcripts from these hearings were posted on the Services website at: http://www.r1.fws.gov/crithab/crlf/default.htm
We received a total of 73 oral and 1,985 written comments during the 3 comment periods. In total, oral and written comments were received from 11 Federal agencies, 5 State agencies, 2 State officials, 83 local governments and 1,957 private individuals or organizations. We reviewed all comments received for substantive issues and new data regarding critical habitat and the California red-legged frog. Of the 2,058 comments we received, 1,608 supported designation, 240 were opposed to it and 210 provided information or declined to oppose or support the designation.
Q. How does a listed species benefit from the designation of critical habitat?
A. Critical habitat designation may raise public awareness of the importance of particular areas to the conservation of a federally listed species. The designation of critical habitat requires Federal agencies to consult with the Service regarding any action that could destroy or adversely modify critical habitat. Adverse modification of critical habitat requires Federal agencies to consult with the Service regarding any action that could destroy or adversely modify critical habitat. Adverse modification of critical habitat is defined as any direct or indirect alteration that appreciably diminishes the value of the habitat for both the survival and recovery of the species.
Regardless of any critical habitat designation, federally listed wildlife species are protected from "take." As defined under the Endangered Species Act, "take" means to harass, harm or kill listed wildlife, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct. Such actions can also include habitat destruction that may affect a federally listed species by disrupting normal breeding, feeding or sheltering activities.
Q. What were the findings of the economic analysis completed as part of the critical habitat designation process?
A. The Endangered Species Act requires the Service to prepare an economic analysis for any proposed critical habitat designation. The economic analysis identifies and analyzes the potential economic impacts that may result from the designation of critical habitat, above those impacts resulting from the listing of the species under the Act.
The economic analysis concluded that some development companies may be affected by modifications to projects or incremental delays in the implementation of projects as a result of critical habitat designation. Certain ranching operations on Federal lands also may be affected on a small scale by minor adjustments to or reductions in grazing allotments. Small landowners may incur costs to determine whether their land contains primary constituent elements for the frog, may experience project delays and may experience temporary changes in property values as markets respond to the uncertainty associated with critical habitat designation.
A draft economic analysis was prepared by Industrial Economics, Inc., an independent consulting firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and released for public review and comment on December 21, 2000. The firm based its analysis on public comments received on the proposed rule, information about current and future planned land uses and input from the Service regarding the impacts of critical habitat on specific projects.
Q. How will this designation of critical habitat affect Federal agencies that undertake, permit, or fund projects?
A. Section 7 of the Act requires Federal agencies to consult with the Service on actions they authorize, fund or carry out that may affect critical habitat. Through this consultation process, the Service can ensure that permitted actions dont change (adversely modify) critical habitat in such a way that it no longer can meet the physical and biological needs of the species. We also analyze actions to determine if they may adversely affect or jeopardize a listed species. The requirement to consult with the Service applies to all lands that have been identified as critical habitat where Federal agencies, permits or funding are involved.
Q. Are all 4.1 million acres critical habitat?
A. While we have designated approximately 4.1 million acres of critical habitat for the California red-legged frog, not all the areas within these broad boundaries contain the specific habitat features required by the frog, and thus, not all areas will require Federal agencies to consult with us. We will require consultations only where the physical and biological features necessary to the species survival exist. For example, existing houses, shopping centers and similar development dont provide specific habitat for the frog, but are in some places within the proposed boundaries of the designation because of limitations in our ability to map the boundaries at a finer scale.
Q. What protection does the California red-legged frog currently receive as a listed species?
A. The Endangered Species Act forbids the import, export or interstate or foreign sale of protected animals and plants without a special permit. It also makes "take" illegal-- forbidding the killing, harming, harassing, possessing or removing of protected animals from the wild. Federal agencies must consult with the Service to ensure that projects they authorize, fund or carry out arent likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered or threatened species, or result in the destruction or adverse modification of designated critical habitat.
Permits may be issued by the Service for activities that are otherwise prohibited under the Act, if these activities are for scientific purposes or to enhance the propagation or survival of the affected species, or for "take" that is incidental to otherwise lawful activities.
In addition, the Endangered Species Act requires that Federal agencies not only take action to prevent further loss of a species, but also pursue actions to recover species to the point where they no longer require protection and can be delisted.
Q. Do listed species in critical habitat areas receive more protection?
A. An area designated as critical habitat isnt a refuge or special conservation area. Listed species and their habitats are protected by the Endangered Species Act whether or not they are in an area designated as critical habitat.
Q. What happens if my private property is designated critical habitat for the California red-legged frog?
A. The designation of critical habitat on privately-owned land doesnt mean the government wants to acquire or control the land. Activities on private lands that dont require Federal permits or funding arent affected by a critical habitat designation. Critical habitat doesnt require landowners to carry out any special management actions or restrict the use of their land. However, the Act prohibits any individual from engaging in unauthorized activities that will actually harm listed wildlife. That prohibition is in effect for any federally listed wildlife, with or without designated critical habitat.
If a landowner needs a Federal permit or receives Federal funding for a specific activity, the agency responsible for issuing the permit or providing the funds would consult with us to determine how the action may affect the California red-legged frog or its designated critical habitat.
Q. What lands are included in this designation?
A. We are proposing to designate critical habitat on Federal and non-federal public lands and privately-owned lands. Approximately 32 percent of the lands are publicly owned and 68 percent are in private ownership.
Q. Why doesnt the Service limit critical habitat designations to Federal lands?
A. The Service cant depend solely on federally owned lands for critical habitat designation as these lands are limited in geographic location, size and habitat quality. Besides federally-owned lands, we are designating critical habitat on non-federal public lands and privately owned lands, including land owned by the California Department of Parks and Recreation, the California Department of Fish and Game, Department of Water Resources and the University of California, as well as regional and local park lands and water district lands. Areas designated as critical habitat meet the definition of critical habitat under section 3 of the Endangered Species Act in that they are within the geographical areas occupied by the species, are essential to the conservation of the species and are in need of special management considerations or protection. We are also designating areas that are outside the current distribution of the species, but are essential for the conservation of the species. We have included two such areas in the Sierra Nevada and one in Southern California.
Q. Is critical habitat designated for all listed species?
A No. The Service has designated critical habitat for 142 of the 1244 species currently listed as threatened or endangered. The Act requires us to identify critical habitat at the time a species is listed. However, in some cases, designating critical habitat may be considered "not prudent" if it would cause harm to the species, such as increasing the possibility of collection or vandalism. Or we may find that such a designation is "not determinable" if we dont have enough information where a species is listed to define areas as critical habitat.
Q. What about lands where HCPs are being developed or will be developed in the future?
A. The designation of critical habitat shouldnt impede ongoing or future HCP efforts. The long-term conservation of the California red-legged frog will be addressed as these plans are being developed.
Q. Why didnt the Service include all areas currently occupied by California red-legged frogs as critical habitat?
A. The Service only included areas that possessed large populations of frogs, represented unique ecological characteristics or historic geographic areas where California red-legged frogs can be re-established. For example, ponds supporting small populations of the frogs but not surrounded by suitable upland habitat or cut off from other breeding ponds or permanent water sources are not critical habitat.
Q. How will the final designation of critical habitat affect activities for which a party has already consulted with the Service under section 7 of the Act?
A. Federal regulations require agencies to reinitiate consultation with the Service on previously reviewed actions if critical habitat is designated after the initial consultation, and if those actions may adversely affect critical habitat. This applies only if those agencies have retained some type of involvement or control over the action, or if such involvement is authorized by law. Federal agencies may request to reinitiate consultation with us if a project is likely to affect or adversely modify proposed critical habitat.
Q. What happens if a project is reviewed as part of a reinitiation of consultation and the Service determines it will adversely modify critical habitat?
A. It is highly unlikely that any activity reviewed and permitted by the Service under section 7 of the Act, prior to the designation of critical habitat will be changed because critical habitat is now proposed for the area. When reviewing projects under section 7, we must determine if the proposed action will "jeopardize the continued existence" of a species by asking the question: "Will the project significantly reduce the likelihood of the species survival and recovery?" A project that will "destroy or adversely modify" critical habitat is one that will significantly reduce the value of critical habitat for the survival and recovery of the species. Regardless of whether critical habitat has been designated, we must still consider the effect a project may have on the continued existence or recovery of a listed species.
Q. Is the critical habitat designation for the California red-legged frog expected to negatively impact grazing?
A. Designation of critical habitat does not prescribe specific management actions, but does identify areas that are in need of special management considerations. In the case of grazing, we dont foresee any change in the ability of private landowners to graze livestock on their property. However, certain ranching operations occurring on Federal lands may be affected on a small scale by minor adjustments to or reductions in grazing allotments. In addition, we anticipate that many activities, including grazing, presently occurring on critical habitat areas can be managed to be compatible with the frogs needs.
Please contact the Endangered Species Division, Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Service, 2800 Cottage Way, W-2605, Sacramento, CA 95825