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For Immediate Release, May 25, 2011

Contact:  Collette Adkins Giese, Center for Biological Diversity, (651) 955-3821
Megan Mueller, Center for Native Ecosystems, (303) 546-0214 x 6
Erik Molvar, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, (307) 742-7978

Endangered Species Act Protection Sought for Boreal Toads

Once Common in West, Toad Suffers Sharp Declines From Disease, Habitat Destruction

DENVER— The Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Native Ecosystems, and Biodiversity Conservation Alliance petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today to protect boreal toads under the federal Endangered Species Act. The unique population of boreal toads native to the southern Rocky Mountains, Utah, southern Idaho and northeastern Nevada is in steep decline due to disease and habitat destruction.

“Boreal toads need protection under the Endangered Species Act to have any shot at survival,” said attorney and biologist Collette Adkins Giese of the Center for Biological Diversity. “By addressing threats like the destruction of wetland habitat we can still save these rare amphibians. But the window of opportunity is closing fast.”

Once widely distributed and common in the western United States, the boreal toad has experienced dramatic declines over the past few decades. Impacts have been severe in the southern Rocky Mountains, where a globally occurring amphibian disease known as chytrid fungus has wiped out most remaining boreal toad populations.  

Endangered Species Act protection for the toad will increase federal funding for research to stem the deadly chytrid fungus and help save high-elevation stream and wetland habitat from threats like pollution and poorly managed recreation and livestock grazing.

“The boreal toad is the region’s only alpine, forest-dwelling toad,” said conservation biologist Megan Mueller of the Center for Native Ecosystems. “This unique toad is an indicator of the environmental health of our mountain streams and wetlands. The protections of the Endangered Species Act are needed to help safeguard the boreal toad from slipping over the brink of extinction.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service must determine whether the petition has merit within 90 days and make a final finding on toad protection within a year.  

In response to a 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, which currently includes more than 250 species, most of which have been waiting decades for protection.

To make matters worse, under the Bush administration, in 2005, the Service reversed course and removed 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 proven 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. Today’s petition seeks federal protection for these genetically unique boreal toads that are experiencing significant declines in population size and distribution. Alternatively, the petition asks the Service to provide Endangered Species Act protection for boreal toads in the southern Rocky Mountains only.

Mounting scientific evidence shows that amphibians are among the most imperiled species on Earth. Globally, 1,898 species of amphibians, or 30 percent of the 6,296 evaluated existing amphibian species, were deemed at risk of extinction in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s 2010 Red List. In the United States, 56 amphibians, or about 20 percent, are at risk of dying out. Ubiquitous toxins, global warming, ozone depletion, introduction of nonnative fish and habitat destruction are key factors leading to their demise.

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