Introducing the Wyoming Toad Conservation Area
On September 22, 2023, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) acquired 1,078 acres of land to officially establish the Wyoming Toad Conservation Area (CA). A is a landscape-scale unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System that helps the Service protect wildlife habitat both via voluntary, private land conservation easements and fee title land acquisition.
The Service purchased this land, known as the Bath Ranch, from The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit focused on land and water protection. The Service used funds from the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund for the purchase. The Service has been working with The Conservation Fund, The City of Laramie, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and the Laramie Rivers Conservation District for several years to reach this key milestone.
Although the first acquisition to establish the Wyoming Toad CA was in fee title acres, the Service will continue working with partners to seek opportunities for developing conservation easements within the Wyoming Toad CA.
Years in the Making
In 2015, the Service developed a Land Protection Plan for the Wyoming Toad Conservation Area, which authorized the purchase of land from willing sellers of up to 43,200 acres in the Laramie Plains of the Wyoming Basin using the Service’s easement program. Within this area, up to 10,000 acres can be purchased as fee title lands. The Conservation Area is within the historic range of the Wyoming toad.
This acquisition is adjacent to Hutton Lake NWR in the Laramie Plains. It includes existing senior water rights needed to maintain quality habitat for toads, migratory birds, and native fish. This acquisition will allow additional toad introductions and adaptive management of Chytrid fungus, a primary threat to Wyoming toads. The land acquired also has a diversity of habitat types that are not present at other toad sites, including playa ponds, sub-irrigated meadows, and riverine habitat, all of which are beneficial to the toads.
The Wyoming Toad - Small, Elusive, Lumpy and Rare
The Wyoming Toad once thrived in the wetlands of southeastern Wyoming. By the 1970s, it was in decline due to various factors, including habitat alteration and Chytrid fungus. In the mid-1980s, it was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. In 1987, a very small population was discovered at what is now Mortenson Lake National Wildlife Refuge. This was thought to be the last of the Wyoming toads in the wild. In the 1990s, the population at Mortenson Lake National Wildlife Refuge was so low that the last remaining toads were brought into captivity for breeding.
Four decades later, the Wyoming toad population is improving, thanks to efforts of the Wyoming Toad Recovery Team and captive breeding programs. The Recovery Team, founded over 20 years ago, is made up of passionate experts from the Association of Zoos, Wyoming Game and Fish, the University of Wyoming, private landowners, the Service, and others. The team works diligently to restore this rare species by identifying priority research projects, making habitat management recommendations, and working together to reintroduce toads to the wild.
Today, Wyoming toads are raised in captivity at several facilities, including the Saratoga National Fish Hatchery in Wyoming. All the toads are descendants of the last wild toads. When the toads reach adulthood, they are released into the wild. The year 2020 was a highlight for the recovery because Saratoga National Fish Hatchery released over 18,000 Wyoming toads of all life stages. Another positive is that some natural reproduction has also been observed in the wild in recent years.
More About Conservation Easements
A is a voluntary legal agreement between a private landowner and a government agency. The land remains in private ownership, and the voluntary legal agreement protects the land’s conservation value by restricting the type and amount of development that may take place. Essentially, conservation easements protect habitat for birds, fish, and other wildlife by limiting development, and may prohibit alteration of the natural topography, conversion of native grassland to cropland, and drainage of wetlands.
A Bright Future
Through the continued passionate and dedicated research and work of the Service and many partners, we hope that the Wyoming toad will once again thrive throughout the Laramie Plains of Wyoming.
For more information, visit: www.fws.gov/species/wyoming-toad-bufo-hemiophrys-baxteri.