Monday, June 16, 2008

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors, Especially When Your Neighbor is an Endangered Frog

First Ever "Frog Fence" to Protect the Rare Oregon Spotted Frog

CHEMULT, Ore.— A Forest Service proposal to fence cattle out of a sensitive stretch of creek in the Klamath Basin to protect the Oregon spotted frog seems to have tentative support from both ranchers and environmentalists. Last month, conservation groups including the Center for Biological Diversity, Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, and the Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center sued, arguing that federal environmental laws require the Forest Service to halt grazing when it “results in loss of species viability or creates a significant trend toward federal listing.” The decision to build the fence responds to this suit.

“This is welcome news for the Oregon spotted frog,” said Noah Greenwald, science director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Once an abundant species throughout the Northwest, the frog now has so few remaining populations that every one counts.”

On Wednesday, representatives of the Center for Biological Diversity and Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics toured Jack Creek along with the Forest Service and the local rancher who runs cows on the allotment. They were there to look over the Forest Service’s solution to the problem: A three-and-a-half-mile-long fence that will exclude cattle from the frog’s breeding grounds in Jack Creek, while allowing the rancher to continue to utilize 90 percent of the allotment for cattle grazing. The Forest Service is also planning additional steps to restore frog habitat, including reintroduction of beaver, which build dams and create pools necessary for the frogs to thrive, clearing encroaching saplings from meadows, and repairing damaged stream banks. In response to the fence proposal, the conservation groups have temporarily set aside their motion for a preliminary injunction against grazing.

“I believe this is the first frog fence in the United States,” said James Johnston of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics. “It is definitely the first frog fence I’ve ever inspected. I am excited to work with the Forest Service to repair streams, reintroduce beaver and more. There’s some creative work getting done by the Forest Service out here on the Chemult District.”

The Oregon spotted frog has been lost from over 90 percent of its former range in southern British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and northern California. There are fewer than 50 known sites where the frog still survives. In 1996, the Forest Service identified one of these sites on a cattle allotment along Jack Creek in the Fremont-Winema National Forest. A nearby rancher is allowed to graze more than 400 cows in the creek during the summer. The number of frog egg masses in Jack Creek — a standard measure of the health of frog populations — has declined from 335 to just 21 from 1999 to 2008.

Spotted frogs have been a Priority Two candidate species for protection under the Endangered Species Act since 1991, meaning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledges they warrant listing as an endangered species, but claims it lacks the funds to provide such protection. Under the Bush administration, the Fish and Wildlife Service has been notoriously slow at protecting candidate species, despite a steadily increasing budget for protecting new species. To date, the administration has listed only 60 U.S. species, compared to 522 under the Clinton administration and 231 under the first Bush administration. There are currently 281 species on the candidate species list. Since passage of the Act, at least 24 candidate species have gone extinct waiting for protection.

“The decline of the Oregon spotted frog in Jack Creek might have been prevented if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had not delayed protection of the Oregon spotted frog,” said George Sexton, conservation director of Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center. “The Bush administration has delayed protection for the Oregon spotted frog and hundreds of other species for too long.”

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