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Groups sue to reclassify species; more may be listed

AgAlert, California Farm Bureau Federation 5/1/13 by Dave Kranz

Two events that happened at the same time last week illustrate the ongoing concerns of California farmers and ranchers about the federal Endangered Species Act:

  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed protections for three amphibians that live in the Sierra Nevada, and proposed to designate more than 2 million acres of land as critical habitat for the species.
  • Three agricultural organizations, including the California Farm Bureau Federation, were forced to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service to reclassify six species under mandatory ESA deadlines, after "status reviews" by the service indicated the species should be removed from protection or be placed in a less-restrictive category.

The three amphibians newly proposed for protection include the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog and the northern population of the mountain yellow-legged frog—each proposed for "endangered" status—and the Yosemite toad, which would be classified as "threatened."

The Fish and Wildlife Service cited livestock grazing as a factor affecting toad populations, and cited fish stocking and habitat fragmentation among factors affecting the frogs.

As part of its proposal, the agency included critical habitat for the three species that, combined, would affect nearly 2.1 million acres of land in 17 counties: Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, El Dorado, Fresno, Inyo, Lassen, Madera, Mariposa, Mono, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sierra, Tulare and Tuolumne.

The Fish and Wildlife Service will accept comments on the proposed listings until June 24. For information on the proposal and on submitting comments, see www.fws.gov/sacramento/.

Meanwhile, the Sacramento-based Pacific Legal Foundation sued the service for failing to respond to its petition to delist or reclassify a half-dozen species currently protected under the ESA.

Acting on behalf of CFBF, the California Cattlemen's Association and the Oregon Cattlemen's Association, the PLF asked a court to require the Fish and Wildlife Service to act on a petition submitted in 2011.

The agricultural organizations said the service should act on its own recommendations to reclassify the six species. One, a bird called the Inyo towhee, is listed as threatened but has recovered to the point that the service recommend it be removed from ESA protection in 2008.

The other species are now listed as endangered but the service has recommended that each be "downlisted" to threatened:

  • The arroyo toad, which is found in Los Angeles, Monterey, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties;
  • The Modoc sucker, a fish found in Lassen and Modoc counties, and in Lake County, Ore.;
  • The Indian Knob mountain balm, a plant in San Luis Obispo County;
  • The Lane Mountain milk-vetch, a plant in San Bernardino County;
  • The Santa Cruz cypress, found in Santa Cruz County.

Daniel Himebaugh, the PLF attorney pursuing the case, said the service's failure to reclassify the species is more than a harmless bureaucratic delay.

"ESA listings can have widespread effects on people," Himebaugh said. "They can prevent people from using land that listed species are thought to inhabit, force people to go through expensive and time-consuming consultations to get federal permits and even result in criminal prosecution."

CFBF General Counsel Nancy McDonough said Farm Bureau joined in the effort to reclassify the species because of its desire to see the Fish and Wildlife Service act as quickly as possible to create and implement recovery plans for protected species.

"Government actions meant to protect species can restrict responsible, multiple use of natural resources," McDonough said. "When the Fish and Wildlife Service learns that such restrictions should be lifted or reduced, it should do so right away. We hope that the lawsuit will compel the service to do what the law requires."

(Dave Kranz is editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at dkranz@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.



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