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California's endangered arroyo toad gets habitat protection

February 9, 2011 | 11:53 am

ArroyoToad_JimRorabaugh_USFWS_FPWC The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has finalized designation of 98,366 acres of critical habitat needed by the endangered arroyo toad to fulfill all of its complex life-cycle stages: flowing water, sandy banks and chaparral.

The USFWS also designated 2,347 acres of critical habitat for the thread-leaved brodiaea, a rare Southern California lily threatened by urban development, off-road vehicles, grazing and plowing for fire clearance.

Specifications for the habitat, which hopscotches from Monterey County to San Diego County, were published Wednesday in the Federal Register, concluding a decade-long legal battle between the USFWS and the Center for Biological Diversity over the fate of the toads, which persist in only 23 small, isolated populations.

“This is very important because there has been a catastrophic reduction in habitat for this toad in California,” said Ilene Anderson, a spokeswoman for the diversity center.

When Bufo californicus -- a small, buff-colored amphibian with dark spots and warts -- was listed under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1994, it had lost more than 75% of its historic habitat to development, mining, agriculture and predation by non-native species.

The USFWS’ original proposal in 2000 called for 478,000 acres to be approved as critical habitat, but its plan was scaled back as a result of public testimony and lobbying by private developers. The Bush administration in 2005 tried to designate just 11,695 acres as critical habitat for the toad.

The center filed the lawsuit challenging the 2005 designation, which it claimed was based on altered scientific conclusions. “There was a lot of tampering with good scientific staff reports,” Anderson said. “Basically, proposed habitat was crossed out and replaced with the words, ‘Not needed.’ ”

The final designation for the arroyo toad includes about 72,596 acres of private lands, 21,982 acres under federal jurisdiction, 2,128 acres of state property and 1,660 acres of locally owned lands, said Lois Grunwald, a spokeswoman for the USFWS.

A final economic analysis estimates the financial impact associated with the designation of critical habitat to be about $750 million over the next 25 years, Grunwald said. Most of that is associated with development, utility and infrastructure projects.

The Endangered Species Act requires the federal government to designate a critical habitat for endangered and threatened species, creating an additional level of review for building and land-use permits.

-- Louis Sahagun

Photo: Arroyo toad. Credit: Jim Rorabaugh / For the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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