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CONTACT: Center for Biological Diversity
Collette Adkins Giese, Center for Biological Diversity, (651) 955-3821
Lawsuit Launched to Speed Federal Protection for Boreal Toads
Toads in Southern Rockies, Utah, Nevada, Idaho Suffering From Disease, Habitat Destruction
DENVER - January 24 - The Center for Biological Diversity and Rocky Mountain Wild filed a formal notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today over the agency’s failure to protect boreal toads in the southern Rocky Mountains, Utah, southern Idaho and northeastern Nevada under the Endangered Species Act. This unique population of toads is in steep decline due to a deadly fungal disease and habitat destruction.
“People used to see these toads in their gardens, but now boreal toads are gone from those gardens, and from most of the other places they called home,” said Center attorney and biologist Collette Adkins Giese. “In the southern Rockies they’ve been waiting nearly two decades for Endangered Species Act protection — protection that’s needed right away to address the drastic decline of these animals and the forces destroying their habitat.”
Once widely distributed and common in the western United States, boreal toad populations have plummeted over the past few decades. Their status is particularly precarious in the southern Rocky Mountains, where a globally occurring amphibian disease known as chytrid fungus has wiped out most remaining populations. Boreal toads exist in less than 1 percent of their historic breeding areas in the southern Rockies.
To gain federal protection for these highly imperiled toads, the Center, Rocky Mountain Wild (formerly Center for Native Ecosystems) and Biodiversity Conservation Alliance filed an Endangered Species Act petition on May 25, 2011. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a positive 90-day finding on the petition on April 12, 2012, and initiated a full status review for boreal toads in the southern Rocky Mountains, Utah, southern Idaho and northeastern Nevada. A final listing decision was due on May 25, 2012.
“The boreal toad is the region’s only alpine, forest-dwelling toad,” said conservation biologist Megan Mueller of Rocky Mountain Wild. “This unique toad is an indicator of the environmental health of our mountain streams and wetlands. The boreal toad cannot afford any additional delay from the agency.”
Endangered Species Act protection for the toad will likely increase federal funding for research to stem chytrid fungus and help save high-elevation stream and wetland habitat from threats like pollution and poorly managed recreation and livestock grazing. The Endangered Species Act has prevented extinction for 99.9 percent of the species it protects.
In response to a 1993 petition filed by the Biodiversity Legal Foundation (later incorporated into the Center for Biological Diversity), the Service determined in 1995 that boreal toads in the southern Rockies deserved protection under the Endangered Species Act but that higher-priority actions precluded listing. The agency added the southern Rocky Mountain population to its candidate list.
Under the Bush administration, in 2005, the Service made matters worse by reversing course and removing boreal toads from the candidate list. The agency concluded that boreal toads in the southern Rockies were not “significant,” in part because they appeared genetically similar to other populations found elsewhere in the West.
Since then, two genetic studies have shown that boreal toads in the southern Rockies are part of an evolutionarily significant “clade” that includes boreal toads in Utah, northeastern Nevada and southern Idaho. This group of boreal toads contains as much genetic diversity as previously recognized species.
The boreal toad is rare across its range and is entirely absent from numerous areas where it occurred historically; the only remaining large population occurs in Colorado. Boreal toads were nearly extirpated in southern Wyoming and were likely extirpated in New Mexico prior to a recent reintroduction effort. The Service’s positive 90-day finding, issued last year, recognizes the scientific evidence showing that these genetically unique boreal toads are experiencing significant declines in population size and distribution.