With a world population of less than 1,000, the future of the California Red-legged Frog (Rana aurora draytonni) looked bleak. The poor frog was beset by habitat destruction, harvesting, predation by non-native species (bullfrog, bluegill, mosquitofish), and drought. Things only grew worse when, in 1995, Congress voted a moratorium on any new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listing of endangered or threatened species.
But finally, after 13 months of waiting, the service can begin reviewing cases again and enlisting candidates on the ever-growing list of threatened and endangered species. The California Red-legged Frog was the first species to earn endangered status after the moratorium was lifted. Although the “official” waiting time has ceased, officials must now spend time reviewing each case, noting any status changes during the moratorium, and then going forward accordingly.
“Threatened and endangered species are like nature’s smoke alarms, warning us of problems in our environment that could ultimately affect people as well as wildlife,” says Mollie Beattie, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Currently, 242 species are on the waiting list for endangered or threatened status, while another 182 species remain likely candidates for listing. Ken Burton, Fish and Wildlife public affairs specialist, says the department has a $4 million dollar budget for the listing program. But with a growing backlog of cases and continuing cuts—ESA species listing was funded at $6.4 million in 1995—he says the program faces tough challenges.
Burton says many of the 242 species awaiting protective status are native Californian and Hawaiian plant species. Other candidates include the peninsular big-horn sheep of California, the Lake Erie water snake of Ohio and the pygmy-owl cactus of Arizona.
The California amphibian, the largest native frog in the western United States, leaped to the front of the list and earned “threatened” status because of a federal court order.
The small frog has a colorful history. In the days of the California gold rush, it was popular table fare. From 1890 and 1900, about 80,000 frogs were harvested annually.