More Than 10,000 Acres Protected For Rare Frog
TUCSON, Ariz.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protected 10,346 acres of critical habitat today in Arizona and New Mexico for the threatened Chiricahua leopard frog. The frog, once common in the Southwest, today occupies less than 20 percent of its historic range.
“Protecting the ponds and waterways where the Chiricahua leopard frog lives will give it an important leg up on survival. We’re glad this exquisite frog is getting the help it badly needs,” said Michael Robinson, a conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity.
The frog’s critical habitat is located in Arizona’s Apache, Cochise, Gila, Graham, Greenlee, Pima, Santa Cruz and Yavapai counties, and New Mexico’s Catron, Grant, Hidalgo, Sierra and Socorro counties. The newly protected habitat is in 39 separate recovery units that safeguard the permanent water sources the frog needs to rebound from severe population decline.
Today’s rule prohibits federal agencies from authorizing activities that could harm the frog’s key breeding habitats. Species with protected critical habitat have been shown to be twice as likely to be recovering as those without.
Once found in more than 400 aquatic sites in the Southwest, the Chiricahua leopard frog now exists at fewer than 80. The frog is primarily threatened by a fungal disease and predation from nonnative bullfrogs and crayfish. Other significant threats include habitat degradation and destruction from livestock grazing, mining, stream diversions, groundwater pumping and loss of natural fire regimes.
“The status of the Chiricahua leopard frog in Arizona has improved since it was protected under the Endangered Species Act, and protecting the places it lives will make a big difference to its recovery,” said Robinson.
The Center urged the Fish and Wildlife Service to designate critical habitat in the area of the Rosemont Mine, a copper mine proposed in the northeastern portion of the Santa Rita Mountains near Tucson, Ariz. The Service did not include these areas in the critical habitat designation but recognized them as important to the frog. The rule explains that the mine threatens the frogs with mercury, cadmium and selenium contamination.
“We won’t give up on the streams the frog lives in that are threatened by polluted runoff from this proposed open-pit mine,” said Robinson.
The Center filed suit against the Service in 1999 and in 2001 for delaying Endangered Species Act protection for the frog, which received court-ordered protection in 2002. The Center is part of the stakeholders’ group that developed a 2007 federal plan to recover the frog — advocating for reducing cattle, preserving springs and removing bullfrogs where the frog lives. By August 2010, 10,000 captive-bred frogs had been reintroduced to Arizona ponds.
Chiricahua leopard frog adults are 2 to 5 inches long. They are known for making a unique noise that sounds like a snore. The frogs live in headwater streams and springs and livestock tanks that lack nonnative predators.
Today’s rule also includes a new threatened listing for the frog due to a taxonomic revision that changes its scientific name from Rana chiricahuensis to Lithobates chiricahuensis. Genetic studies found that the Ramsey Canyon frog from the Huachuca Mountains in Cochise County, Ariz., which was previously thought to be a separate species, is actually a Chiricahua leopard frog; that population also receives federal protection through the rulemaking.