SACRAMENTO— The California Department of Fish and Wildlife today recommended California Endangered Species Act protections for five populations of the foothill yellow-legged frog. The frog has disappeared from more than half of its former California range.
The recommendation responds to a 2016 legal petition from the Center for Biological Diversity. The California Fish and Game Commission will vote on whether to follow the listing recommendations at its December 11 meeting in Sacramento.
A status report on the species released today recommends an endangered listing for the Southern Sierra, Central Coast and South Coast frog populations. The report recommends a threatened listing for the Northern Sierra and Feather River populations. The agency determined the North Coast frogs do not currently warrant protection.
“We’re thrilled the department agreed these special frogs need protection,” said Jenny Loda, a Center biologist and attorney working to protect vulnerable amphibians and reptiles. “That would also safeguard the beautiful coastal and Sierra foothill streams where they live. The frogs would benefit, but so would people who need these streams for clean drinking water and recreation.”
Foothill yellow-legged frogs were once found in many streams and rivers along the lower western slopes of the Sierra Nevada, and in Pacific Coast drainages from the Oregon border to at least as far south as Los Angeles County.
Foothill yellow-legged frogs are harmed by dams and water diversions, logging, mining and livestock grazing. Other threats include climate change, pesticides and pollutants, off-road vehicles, disease and habitat damage from urban and agricultural expansion and marijuana cultivation.
The Center petitioned in 2012 to protect the foothill yellow-legged frog under the federal Endangered Species Act. Under a settlement agreement with the Center, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will decide by 2020 on whether the species warrants federal protection.
Adult foothill yellow-legged frogs are from 1.5 to 3 inches long, with a distinctive lemon-yellow color under their legs. They inhabit partially shaded, rocky perennial streams, and their life cycle is synchronized with the seasonal timing of streamflow conditions. These frogs need perennial water where they can forage through the summer and fall months.
The Northern Sierra population ranges from the Middle Fork American River in El Dorado County, north through the Sierra foothills to the upper Yuba River watershed in Plumas County. The Southern Sierra population ranges from the South Fork American River watershed, south through the Sierra foothills to the Tehachapi Mountains. The genetically unique Feather River population is primarily in Plumas and Butte counties.
At least half the known historical frog populations have been lost in every northern and central Sierra county except Plumas County. Healthy frog populations remain in the northern and central Sierras in the American, Clavey, Cosumnes, Feather, Merced, Mokelumne, Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Yuba rivers.
The Central Coast population lives south of San Francisco Bay in the Coast Ranges to San Benito and Monterey counties. Significant foothill yellow-legged frog populations remain in the Diablo Range. The South Coast population is west of the Salinas Valley in Monterey County and south into the southern Coast Ranges. These frogs have now disappeared from all coastal streams south of San Luis Obispo County.