New Agreement Will Speed Federal Protection for Boreal Toads

Toads in Southern Rockies, Utah, Nevada, Idaho Suffering From Disease, Habitat Destruction

DENVER–(ENEWSPF)–September 24, 2013.  The Center for Biological Diversity reached a settlement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service late Monday giving the agency four years to consider Endangered Species Act protection for boreal toads in the southern Rocky Mountains, Utah, southern Idaho and northeastern Nevada. This unique population of toads is in steep decline due to a deadly fungal disease and habitat destruction.

Boreal toad
Boreal toad photo by Chris Brown, USGS. 

“This agreement will move these boreal toads toward the protection they desperately need to avoid extinction,” said Center attorney and biologist Collette Adkins Giese. “In the southern Rockies boreal toads have been waiting nearly two decades for Endangered Species Act protection — protection that’s needed to address the drastic decline of these animals and the forces destroying their habitat.”

Once common, boreal toads now exist in less than 1 percent of their historic breeding areas in the southern Rockies, where a globally occurring amphibian disease known as chytrid fungus has wiped out most remaining populations. The only remaining large population in the southern Rockies is in Colorado. Boreal toads have been nearly extirpated in southern Wyoming and were likely extirpated in New Mexico prior to a recent reintroduction effort.

To gain federal protection for the toads the Center, Rocky Mountain Wild and Biodiversity Conservation Alliance filed Endangered Species Act petition in 2011. Last year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a positive 90-day finding and initiated a full status review. The Center sued after the agency failed to make a final decision within one year, as the Endangered Species Act requires. Under Monday’s settlement agreement, the toads will get a decision on Endangered Species Act protection in fiscal year 2017.

“The boreal toad is the region’s only alpine, forest-dwelling toad,” said conservation biologist Megan Mueller of Rocky Mountain Wild. “Protections of the Endangered Species Act are needed to help safeguard the boreal toad from slipping over the brink of extinction. Protecting habitat for this unique toad will also improve the health of our mountain streams and wetlands.”

Endangered Species Act protection for the toad will likely increase federal funding for research to stem chytrid fungus and help save high-elevation stream and wetland habitat from threats like pollution and poorly managed recreation and livestock grazing. The Endangered Species Act has prevented extinction for 99.9 percent of the species under its care through habitat protection, development of recovery plans and other conservation measures.

In response to a 1993 petition filed by the Biodiversity Legal Foundation (later incorporated into the Center for Biological Diversity), the Service determined in 1995 that boreal toads in the southern Rockies deserved protection under the Endangered Species Act and added them to its candidate list. In 2005 the Service reversed course and removed the toads from the candidate list after concluding they were not “significant,” in part because they appeared genetically similar to other populations found elsewhere in the West.

Since then two genetic studies have shown that boreal toads in the southern Rockies are part of an evolutionarily significant “clade” that includes boreal toads in Utah, northeastern Nevada and southern Idaho. This unique population of boreal toads contains as much genetic diversity as previously recognized species.

The 2011 petition filed by the Center, Rocky Mountain Wild and Biodiversity Conservation seeks protection for this population. The Service’s positive 90-day finding recognizes the scientific evidence showing that these genetically unique boreal toads are experiencing significant declines in population size and distribution.

The boreal toad is one of 10 species that the Center prioritized for protection this year under a 2011 multi-species settlement agreement with the Service. That landmark settlement is expediting protection decisions for 757 species and has already resulted in the protection of 109 plants and animals. Monday’s agreement gives the boreal toad a place in the long line of species awaiting protection decisions.  

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 625,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.