Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, January 6, 2021


Chris Bugbee, (305) 498-9115,

Report: Cattle Destroying Threatened Frog Habitat in Four Arizona Forests

Reintroduction Efforts Fail to Fix Trampled, Feces-filled Critical Habitat

TUCSON, Ariz.— Cattle have caused immense damage to critical habitat designated to help threatened Chiricahua leopard frogs recover throughout four national forests in Arizona, based on field surveys by the Center for Biological Diversity that show few sites still support frogs.

“These amazing amphibians are indicator species that tell us when something’s wrong with our environment, and our field surveys show that something is definitely wrong,” said Chris Bugbee, a wildlife biologist and Southwest conservation advocate at the Center, who conducted the surveys. “Cows are trampling and defecating all over the last places these frogs depend on for survival. If ponds continue to be destroyed, these frogs will have nowhere else to go. The federal agencies responsible for ensuring these amphibians don’t go extinct must ban cattle completely from the frogs’ critical habitat. Otherwise the Chiricahua leopard frog is doomed.”

The Center recently visited 20 grazing allotments throughout Arizona designated as critical habitat for the frogs, as well as critical habitat on state land and wilderness areas. Chiricahua leopard frogs were found in under 10% of the ponds surveyed, and nearly all these water sources were trampled and contaminated with cow feces.

The field surveys show that federal agencies have systematically mismanaged federally required protection and restoration efforts, allowing widespread and severe habitat damage from cattle grazing, including water pollution and the potential spread of a fungus responsible for amphibian die-offs worldwide. Under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service must ensure that any actions they authorize don’t jeopardize a listed species or harm its habitat

Once found in more than 400 aquatic sites in the Southwest, the frog is now found at fewer than 80. In Arizona the Chiricahua has declined more than any other leopard frog and can no longer be found in its namesake locality, the Chiricahua Mountains.

From August through early November, the Center visited 62 designated critical habitat ponds and walked dozens of miles of critical habitat streams in 20 grazing allotments across the Apache-Sitgreaves, Coconino, Coronado and Tonto national forests.

Only five of the ponds surveyed were free of cattle, untrammeled and supporting Chiricahua leopard frogs. One of those sites was a gated quarry with no access for cattle. Three other ponds were severely trampled by cattle and polluted with cattle feces, but there were hundreds of frogs, indicating that the frogs were likely recently released from a captive-breeding program.

“Chiricahua leopard frogs face so many threats, but the one we can directly control is cattle grazing,” Bugbee said. “Many of these ponds are absolute cesspools and if they continue to be destroyed these frogs will have nowhere else to go. It defies ethics, science and the law for the Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service to authorize cattle grazing in protected critical habitat knowing that it harms these frogs. Now they need to step up and stop it.”


After two Center lawsuits, the Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Chiricahua leopard frog as threatened in 2002. In 2011 the agency designated more than 10,000 acres in Arizona and New Mexico as the frogs’ critical habitat. Their optimal home is a stream or a tinaja-studded canyon near ponds, but most remaining Chiricahua leopard frogs occupy artificial ponds, also known as stock tanks, built by cattle ranchers to hold runoff water for livestock.

A robust captive-breeding program has put thousands of frogs and tadpoles back into critical habitat since 1995, and without these efforts the Chiricahua leopard frogs might well already have disappeared across much of what’s left of their range. The Fish and Wildlife Service hasn’t conducted a review of range-wide Chiricahua leopard frog population trends since 2009 and hasn’t published its required five-year report since 2011.

“No amount of captive breeding will be able to save Chiricahua leopard frogs unless federal agencies stop turning a blind eye to the rampant critical habitat destruction grazing is inflicting on the frogs’ only home,” Bugbee said. “These fragile frogs are being decimated by cattle grazing, invasive predators, fungal disease and climate change. They’ll keep inching closer to extinction unless we get cows out of their habitat now.”

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.

center locations