HOUSTON, Texas— The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a notice of intent to sue the Trump administration for failing to update a deficient, 35-year-old recovery plan for the Houston toad. These critically endangered toads are found only in the central coastal region of Texas.
Despite being protected under the Endangered Species Act nearly 50 years ago, the Houston toad continues to decline across its range and suffer from further habitat loss and fragmentation. Fewer than 1,000 adults may remain alive in the wild.
“It’s appalling that the Fish and Wildlife Service has allowed this little toad, which was the first kind of toad ever protected under the Endangered Species Act almost 50 years ago, to move closer to extinction,” said Jenny Loda, a Center biologist and attorney dedicated to protecting rare amphibians and reptiles. “Updating the plan with all the relevant new science and detailed recovery measures is crucial to saving these animals. Without more focus on recovery, we may lose these little guys forever.”
A recovery plan was created for the Houston toad in 1984, but even then, the plan did not satisfy Endangered Species Act requirements. For example, it failed to address all threats to the species and did not provide recovery criteria, meaning its success or failure could not be easily measured.
Despite admitting in 2011 that the plan was deficient and outdated — and indicating that a new plan was in progress — the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has failed to update the 1984 plan.
More recent surveys and research resulted in significant new information on the toad’s historical range and biology — key elements for planning for the animals’ survival and recovery. An updated plan should reflect this current science and contain a detailed recovery roadmap that includes objective, measurable criteria.
Once ranging throughout the central coast of Texas, the Houston toad is now thought to be gone from at least three counties (Harris, Fort Bend and Liberty counties), likely due to rapid urbanization and drought. The toad’s numbers are dwindling throughout the rest of its range, with some extensive county-wide surveys resulting in no toads or only a single individual located.
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).