Endangered Species Day
May 15th, 2020

Photo: Spencer Riffle.

Endangered Species Day occurs every year on the third Friday of May and is an opportunity for us to learn and share about the importance of protecting endangered species and everyday actions we can take to help protect and recover endangered species. Started in 2006 by the United States Congress, Endangered Species Day is a celebration of the nation’s wildlife and wild places. Traditionally, conservation groups and other organizations throughout the country hold tours, special speaker presentations, children’s activities, and more to celebrate Endangered Species. The Endangered Species Coalition coordinates activities and actions around the county to honor the day. Due to the virus, Endangered Species Day 2020 is being celebrated virtually.

Sierra Nevada Yellow Legged Frog

The Sierra Nevada Yellow-legged Frog (Rana sierra) is a medium sized frog measuring between 1 and 3 inches. Adults are aptly named “yellow-legged” due to the yellow or light orange coloring under their belly and back legs. The frogs vary in color from brown to grey, red, or greenish-brown and usually have dark spots or splotches so the frogs can camouflage into their habitat and avoid predation. Also to protect themselves, the frogs can produce a distinctive mink–or garlic-like odor. Due to the lack of vocal sacks they don’t croak like other frog species but can vocalize in or out of water, making what sounds like a flat clicking sound. Using their large sticky tongue they eat a variety of terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates and tadpoles, sometimes even consuming other dead frogs or eggs. Their historic and current habitat includes lakes, ponds, marshes, meadows, and streams at high elevations—typically ranging from about 6,500 to 12,000 feet in the Eastern Sierra. Today the frogs mostly occur in designated wilderness along the Sierra crest. Up until the early 2000’s, the frogs were occasionally found in Mono County in the Glass Mountains’ numerous wet meadows but have not been confirmed in some time, perhaps due to a drier climate, grazing, and disease. Because the species’s highly aquatic nature and require water for breeding, if a body of water used for breeding dries up for just one season, three to four generations of tadpoles will be destroyed.

Dramatic declines in the population are linked to decades of fish stocking, habitat fragmentation, climate change, and most recently a deadly chytrid fungus epidemic. Studies show that populations of Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog have declined by almost 70 percent, disappearing from 93% of their historic range. After a 2000 listing petition, the frog was officially listed as endangered in 2014. The remaining populations are smaller and more isolated. But recent work facilitated by the ESA to remove non-native fish and reintroduce the frogs to former habitat appear to be helping. New research also indicates surviving populations are evolving increased resistance to the disease, allowing the frogs to recolonize lakes where they’ve been extirpated. With proper funding and support, the recovery of this iconic mountain amphibian could be an endangered species success story. 

What you can do to help
Write to your Representatives

A crucial component of funding occurs through the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In 1973, Congress showed global leadership by creating the Endangered Species Act. For over 40 years the law has been used to prevent extinction, recover imperiled plants and animals, and protect the ecosystems on which they depend. A unique and powerful feature of the law is a citizen suit provision, which means any person or organization can file a lawsuit to stop any party, including a governmental agency that is in violation of the Act. In past years Congress has repeatedly tried to undermine the ESA. Today this bedrock environmental law is under attack by the Trump Administration. You can help enforce it by writing to your representatives and encouraging them to vote against the most recent proposals that would gut the act.

Disinfect your footwear

You can also take simple steps when you recreate in the high country to help protect amphibian species. Disinfect your footwear by scraping boots clear of mud and standing the soles in bleach or other disinfecting solution for several minutes. You can use a 1:20 bleach solution-to-water ratio. For example, use about 6 oz. (~180 mL) of bleach per gallon of water. Because bleach breaks down rapidly make sure you use fresh bleach and check the bottles expiration date. Any disinfecting solutions should be prevented from entering any water bodies. Avoiding pesticides and saving water are also small and effective ways we all can help our amphibian friends.