March 30, 2011

A Framework for Future Frog Recovery Efforts

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the state Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing process for the mountain yellow-legged frog is underway, with a Status Review document due to the California Fish and Game Commission this October. In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recently sent a letter to state and federal agencies stating their intention to begin the “final rule” process for listing the mountain yellow-legged frog in the Sierra Nevada under the federal ESA. Given the steep decline of both species of the mountain yellow-legged frog in the Sierra Nevada (Rana muscosa, Rana sierra), it seems likely that both the state and federal processes will end up listing both species as either threatened or endangered. These listings will accelerate the development and implementation of recovery actions across the range of the species.

To date, these recovery efforts have involved the removal of nonnative trout from critically-important lake and stream habitats, and have been undertaken primary by the California Department of Fish and Game, National Park Service, and U.S. Forest Service. These projects have set the stage for marked increases in affected mountain yellow-legged frog populations. However, they have been undertaken without much in the way of coordination between agencies. Given that these recovery projects currently affect only a tiny fraction of the Sierra Nevada, this coordination hasn’t been critical. But with an escalation of recovery efforts, close coordination between recovery projects will be essential to ensure that implementing agencies plan recovery efforts based on a mutually agreed-upon prioritization of recovery locations, and that recovery projects are uniformly based on the best available science and utilize a consistent set of site selection criteria, implementation methods, and monitoring protocols.

So, what mechanisms exist to coordinate these recovery activities? The most likely is the development of a mountain yellow-legged frog Conservation Strategy. The USFWS recently requested that all state and federal agencies with jurisdiction over mountain yellow-legged frogs and their habitat appoint a representative for inclusion on such a team, but it remains uncertain what the time frame for this Conservation Strategy will be. Ideally, the Conservation Strategy would be in place within one year, allowing coordinated recovery projects to be implemented either during the ESA listing processes or soon thereafter. This plan would identify the locations of recovery actions, prioritize these actions, and outline protocols for implementing the actions and monitoring their effects. Such a coordinated effort, with a centralized data base in which all monitoring data from recovery projects is maintained, would allow rapid assessment of the degree to which projects are meeting recovery goals.

In addition to providing a coordinating framework within which recovery projects are implemented, it is important that the Conservation Strategy be transparent to all stakeholders. This transparency will provide all interested parties with information on the criteria used to identify and prioritize recovery projects, and the locations of recovery projects. There is always a reluctance to provide the public with the exact locations of trout removal efforts due to concerns that disgruntled individuals could sabotage projects, but it is time to take this important step. It is my hope that any risks will be outweighed by the benefits that will come from fully involving the public in the task of recovering mountain yellow-legged frogs across the Sierra Nevada.

Only time will tell whether the Conservation Strategy meets these important goals.

Back to The Mountain Yellow-legged Frog Site.

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