Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, February 24, 2020


Jenny Loda, (510) 844-7100 x 336,

Lawsuit Challenges Trump Administration Failure to Update Plan to Save Houston Toads

HOUSTON— The Center for Biological Diversity sued the Trump administration today for failing to update a deficient, 35-year-old recovery plan for Houston toads. This critically endangered species is now found only in the central coastal region of Texas, and fewer than 1,000 adults may remain in the wild.

Today’s lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Court for the District of Columbia, notes that the Houston toad continues to decline across its range and suffer from further habitat loss and fragmentation, despite being the first toad protected under the Endangered Species Act, nearly 50 years ago. An inadequate federal recovery plan has been a key factor in that decline.

“Over years of federal inaction, the Houston toad has moved closer and closer to extinction,” said Jenny Loda, a Center biologist and attorney dedicated to protecting rare amphibians and reptiles. “A new plan is desperately needed to put these precious animals back on track. The Fish and Wildlife Service must take all necessary actions to protect these toads, or we’ll lose them forever.”

A recovery plan was created for the Houston toad in 1984, but even then, the plan did not satisfy Endangered Species Act requirements. Despite admitting in 2011 that the plan was deficient and outdated — and indicating that a new plan was in progress — the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has failed to update it.

Recovery plans are the main tool for identifying actions necessary to save endangered species from extinction and eventually remove their protection under the Endangered Species Act. Research by the Center has found that species with dedicated recovery plans for two or more years are far more likely to be improving than those without.

Much has been learned about Houston toads’ historical range and biology in the 35 years since the original recovery plan was created. These are key elements for planning for the animals’ survival and recovery. An updated plan should reflect current science and contain a detailed recovery roadmap that includes objective, measurable criteria.

The toad once ranged throughout the central coast of Texas but is now believed gone from at least three counties (Harris, Fort Bend and Liberty), likely due to rapid urbanization and drought. Its numbers are dwindling throughout the rest of its range, with some extensive county-wide surveys finding no toads or a single, lone individual.


The Houston toad grows to between 2 and 3.5 inches long and is found only in Texas. It’s a habitat specialist, appearing to prefer habitats with deep sandy soils and forest cover that are near breeding ponds. Breeding pool characteristics vary and can be shallow, but water must persist for at least 60 days for successful reproduction.

In 1970 the Houston toad was protected as endangered under the Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1969, the precursor to the current Endangered Species Act.

The Houston toad historically ranged across 13 counties in the central coastal region of Texas (Austin, Bastrop, Burleson, Colorado, Freestone, Fort Bend, Harris, Liberty, Lavaca, Lee, Leon, Milam and Robertson).

Houston toad, courtesy of Dr. Robert Thomas, USFWS. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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