Amphibian protection proposal also protects humans

August 5, 2013 

Back in April, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to list three "at-risk" Sierra Nevada amphibians under the Endangered Species Act due to habitat degradation, disease, predation from introduced fish, and the failure of current regulations to allow the amphibians to recover.

The alarming results from the scientific review that studied the three species revealed that the Sierra Nevada mountain yellow-legged frog and the northern population of the mountain yellow-legged frog have been extirpated from over 90 percent of their historic range (Federal Register 24478). Similarly the Yosemite toad exists in small populations in only 12 percent of its historic watersheds (FR 24511).

While some readers may not care whether frogs or toads survive in Sierra meadows and streams, there is something very important to worry about when key pieces of nature are fading out of the picture.

These amphibians have a direct link to your water supply and water quality because they live in the high-elevation meadows and streams of the Sierra Nevada, where most California water originates. If the high mountain habitat for these species is being degraded, the water quality and quantity for California is, too.

For decades human activities in these fragile high-elevation areas have caused headcuts and gullies in meadows, widespread damage to riparian stream zones, and direct impacts to amphibians. Now is the time to act in a positive way to support restoration of these important meadows and streams for frogs, toads, and people — all who will benefit if these areas are better protected.

The proposed rule for listing these at-risk amphibians can be found at ttp://1.usa.gov/1cDV8qv under the Fish and Wildlife Service heading.

When Rep. Tom McClintock arrives in Sonora today to further stir up the "rural rebellion" and to lead county politicians in a federal agency bashing session, be highly skeptical of the wild, exaggerated claims that are made.

The USFWS plan overall only designates private land for 4 percent of proposed designated habitat, with 96 percent on public land. The USFWS plan spells out that the proposed regulations will not block access to public lands nor affect any nonfederal actions on the small amount of private lands that are included in the overall critical habitat designation. What the plan simply does is to require federal agencies to consult with USFWS in order to minimize harm to designated critical habitat.

Rather than attack the USFWS for following the law and the best available science, politicians should be praising the federal agency for bending over backwards to minimize impacts on human uses even as a greater effort is made to protect these disappearing species.

Instead of turning the Sonora hearing into a dog and pony show that attacks federal scientists for doing their job, industry representatives and politicians should take the time to actually read the USFWS plan. If they do so, they will see that this proposal is exactly the sort of balanced middle-ground plan that can help protect disappearing species while also helping to restore meadow and streams that are tied to a clean, abundant water supply for California.

So-called hearings that feature one-sided rhetoric and fabricated fears will only further polarize, rather than resolve complex issues. Read the USFWS plan yourself to see how solidly it is based in good science with an obvious goal of minimizing conflicts. Don't be misled by misinformation and exaggerated claims.

Thomas is with Sierra Forest Legacy, based in Garden Valley, and Buckley with the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center in Twain Harte.

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