PORTLAND, Ore.—(ENEWSPF)–June 30, 2015. In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that four increasingly rare species in the Pacific Northwest — the Cascades frog, foothill yellow-legged frog, Oregon slender salamander and a flower called silvery phacelia — may qualify for Endangered Species Act protection. The Center petitioned for the amphibians, along with 49 other imperiled amphibians and reptiles across the country, in July 2012 because habitat loss, toxic pesticides, disease, introduced predators and climate change are threatening them with extinction. The Center was among eight conservation groups that filed a petition last year seeking federal protection for the silvery phacelia, a rare coastal flower.
“Irreplaceable pieces of the rich natural heritage of the Pacific Northwest could be lost if we don’t act fast,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center. “Endangered Species Act protection is the best hope for protecting the silvery phacelia and these rare amphibians for future generations.”
The silvery phacelia grows only on sand dunes and sandy bluffs along a 130-mile stretch of coast from Coos and Curry counties in southern Oregon to Del Norte County in northern California. Fewer than 30 populations of the silvery-leaved plant survive, and it is at risk of extinction due to off-road vehicles, development and nonnative beach grass. The Center, Oregon Wild and six regional allies petitioned for its protection.
The Center was joined in its petition for the Cascades frog, foothill yellow-legged frog and Oregon slender salamander by several renowned scientists and herpetologists, including E.O. Wilson, Thomas Lovejoy and Michael Lannoo. More than 200 scientists sent a letter asking the Service to review the status of the petitioned animals. Nearly one in four amphibians and reptiles is at risk of dying out, scientists say. This loss is alarming because they play important roles as predators and prey in their ecosystems and are valuable indicators of environmental health.
“There’s broad scientific consensus that we are facing a profound, human-driven extinction crisis that requires prompt action,” said Curry. “The Endangered Species Act has a nearly perfect record of stopping animals and plants from going extinct — it’s hands-down our best tool for saving vanishing species of the Pacific Northwest.”
Today’s “90-day finding” — the first in a series of government decisions on the petitions — required the Fish and Wildlife Service to determine whether the petitions presented sufficient information to warrant further consideration, a process that requires few agency resources. The next step is a year-long status review of the species by the Service. The Service also today announced that the petition did not present substantial information that listing of the Olympic torrent salamander may be warranted.
See an interactive state-by-state map showing where the petitioned amphibians and reptiles live; download photos of the Cascades frog, foothill yellow-legged frog and Oregon slender salamander for media use. A photo of the silvery phacelia is also available.
Cascades Frog (California, Oregon, Washington): This medium-sized frog has a slender, brownish body with inky spots, a dark eye mask and honey-yellow legs. It inhabits the Cascade Range, from the very northern edge of California’s Sierra Nevada to near the British Columbia border. The frogs are experiencing sharp declines due to introduction of nonnative trout, disease and drift of airborne pesticides from agricultural areas. Declines are particularly severe in the southernmost parts of their range, where scientists estimate that the frogs have lost about 99 percent of their populations. The skin of the Cascades frog secretes high concentrations of anti-infective peptides that may have therapeutic potential.
Foothill Yellow-legged Frogs (California, Oregon): The range of the foothill yellow-legged frog includes Pacific drainages from the upper reaches of Oregon’s Willamette River system, south to the Upper San Gabriel River, Los Angeles County, Calif. The frog has disappeared from many portions of its historical range, especially in Southern California, where it has been extirpated from Santa Barbara County to San Diego County, and has not been seen in, or south of, the Transverse Ranges since 1977 despite repeated searches. Moreover, it is now rare or absent through the entire western half of the Oregon range. The frog is threatened by habitat destruction for dams, livestock grazing, mining, logging and roads, as well as pesticides and nonnative predators like bullfrogs, bass and even feral pigs. The foothill yellow-legged frog is considered “vulnerable” in Oregon and it is a California Species of Special Concern.
Oregon Slender Salamander (Oregon): These fragile salamanders are bejeweled with ruby red and goldish spots on their black backs and delicate white flecks on their bellies. They are lungless and breathe through their skin. They are found in wet forests in western Oregon from the Columbia River Gorge in Multnomah and Hood River counties southward in the Cascade Mountains to southern Lane County. The salamander’s decline is largely due to widespread logging of the old-growth forests upon which it depends.
Silvery Phacelia (Oregon, California): This member of the Forget-Me-Not family of flowering plants grows to be 18 inches tall. It has white flowers that are a rich source of nectar and pollen for native bees. The number of bees and variety of bee species in dune vegetation is higher in places where phacelia grows. Its silvery hairs, an adaptation to the harsh coastal environment, keep salt off its leaves, decrease water loss and reflect excess light. The name “Phacelia” is from the Greek “phakelos” meaning cluster, for its lovely clustered flowers, which bloom from March to September.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.