U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service awards over $1 million in 2024 Recovery Challenge Grant Awards in California

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is announcing the 2024 Recovery Challenge Grant Award Recipients, awarding over $1 million to partners in California to further recovery actions for the federally threatened southern sea otter and California red-legged frog and the federally endangered blunt-nosed leopard lizard. 

The Recovery Challenge Grant Awards support wildlife conservation projects that help recover federally listed species such as captive-breeding, rearing, reintroduction and monitoring and the development of recovery plans. This year, a total of $4.2 million is being awarded across the country.

Restoration and recovery of the Baja California lineage of the California red-legged frog in Southern California and Baja California 

California red-legged frog by Rick Kuyper/USFWS.

The San Diego Natural History Museum will receive a total of $630,764 over a three-year period to support recovery of the California red-legged frog. The museum is partnering with Conservación de Fauna del Noroeste, The Nature Conservancy, US Geological Survey, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Riverside County Parks, the Service and a private landowner, to recover the Baja California lineage of the federally threatened California red-legged frog in extirpated portions of its historical range. From 2020-2022, partners successfully translocated frog egg masses from ponds in Baja California, Mexico to suitable habitat in two locations in Southern California.

This proposal builds upon ongoing efforts by continuing reintroduction at current sites, captive-breeding, habitat management, evaluation of new reintroduction sites in the historical range of the Baja California lineage and monitoring reintroduced and source populations in the U.S. and Mexico. As the hardest hit region in the decline of California red-legged frog, Southern California is helping the frog regain ground throughout its range with the support of this funding.

Recovering the blunt-nosed leopard lizard in California's Panoche Hills 

Blunt nosed leopard lizard at Panoche Plateau in California. Image courtesy of Bureau of Land Management.

The Fresno Chaffee Zoo will be awarded $531,326 to support the recovery of the blunt-nosed leopard lizard on the western edge of the California Central Valley in the Panoche Hills. The lizard was one of the very first species protected by the Endangered Species Act  in 1967, however populations continue to decline with multiple populations disappearing over the last 30 years.  At Panoche Plateau, an area managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the blunt-nosed leopard lizard population declined to fewer than 10 individuals in 2020.

The Fresno Chaffee Zoo developed a successful breeding program for the lizard. After the five remaining lizards on the Panoche Plateau were captured and brought into the Zoo’s care, the adults and their offspring produced over 100 healthy lizards in only 3 years. Fresno Chaffee Zoo also successfully initiated reintroductions in May 2023, releasing 17 captive-bred lizards back onto the Panoche Plateau after they were outfitted with radio tracking collars. The zoo anticipates releasing up to 100 animals per year throughout the current project and will continue reintroductions until 50 or more natural born females successfully reproduce for three consecutive years. 

This newest round of funding will support the zoo’s efforts to install an Automated Radio Telemetry System covering the entire 894-hectare reintroduction site on the Panoche Plateau to monitor released lizards throughout their lives. This system will be the largest in the world at the time of installation. The zoo will also experimentally test the efficacy of grazing with a newly developed breed of sheep (Elgorriaga Sheep) for controlling invasive grasses which dominate remnant blunt-nosed leopard lizard habitat and negatively affect the species. Using the radio telemetry system, the zoo will monitor how lizards use the grazed and ungrazed patches of land.

The project expects to develop protocols for managing landscapes to promote blunt-nosed leopard lizard populations and advance the recovery of the species. The project will also benefit California Central Valley residents by preserving a species that only exists in this region, providing opportunities to observe the species in the wild and in captivity at Fresno Chaffee Zoo, and supporting paid internship opportunities for regional students.

Updating the southern sea otter recovery plan  

A raft of southern sea otters off the California coast. USFWS photo

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation will receive $198,984 to update the 2003 southern sea otter recovery plan and recovery implementation strategy in close collaboration with the Service. The Monterey Bay Aquarium leads the southern sea otter live stranding response, rehabilitation and release network in California and has been a key partner in sea otter research and population monitoring. The revisions will ensure the recovery plan and implementation strategy reflect current information about the species' status and threats, allowing the Service and partners to focus and coordinate recovery efforts in a manner that is responsive to the current and likely future conditions of the species.

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Endangered and/or Threatened species