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Spotted Frog Protection
  Endangered listing could have impact on Basin; some say ruling would be positive; others disagree
 by DEVAN SCHWARTZ 8/30/13

     A contentious natural resources landscape in the Klamath Basin could get bumpier with the proposed listing of spotted frogs under the Endangered Species Act.

   The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Wednesday a one-year period to assess whether to designate the Oregon spotted frog as threatened, and whether 68,192 acres and 23 stream miles should be listed as critical habitat throughout Washington and Oregon.

   The final decision is expected to be made by the end of August 2014.

   Economic impacts

   Laurie Seda, field supervisor for the Klamath Falls Fish and Wildlife office, said the listing of spotted frogs is unlikely to affect local landowners unless they received federal money or federal permits.
       “We’re able to work with landowners to meet their economic needs, protect the frog habitat and still allow them to have a viable operation,” Seda said. “I don’t know that there’s going to be a lot of added burden that they haven’t already had to deal with.”

   But State Sen. Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls, disagrees with this assessment. “One more endangered species would be just one more very detrimental force on our economy,” he said.  

   In the Klamath Basin, about two-thirds of Oregon spotted frog habitat has been found on federal lands and one-third on private lands.

   Steve Pedery, conservation director for Oregon Wild, says any economic impacts could be positive ones. He argues wetlands and lakes are a large part of what brings tourism and investment to the region, and healthier ecosystems could actually provide an economic boost.

   “Being better stewards of those resources most likely is only a good thing to the economy,” Pedery said.  

   Restoration goals

   Seda described two major goals for listing the Oregon spotted frog. “One, we have to protect what we have, and two, we’re going to have to restore additional habitat to connect populations to achieve recovery and delisting of the species.”

   A species can be delisted once the danger of extinction no longer seems a threat. Seda said the most recent delisted species was the bald eagle; it was delisted in 2007 after decades of protection.

   The Fish and Wildlife field supervisor says a recovery plan for the spotted frog will be voluntary and provide a useful outline for how to achieve   recovery.

   As far as water management, Seda said she didn’t expect something on the scale in place for sucker or coho salmon, which respectively mandate minimum amounts of water in Upper Klamath Lake and the Klamath River.  

   Nevertheless, Seda said that “some of the ways water is managed may need to be changed to connect existing habitat for these species.”

   Whitsett takes issue with the cavalier listing of protected species by the federal government.

   “We have a strong tendency to base our designations of threatened and endangered species on flawed data and false assumptions. After a while, the assumption becomes ludicrous and you still have the law,” Whitsett said.

   The state senator says the Endangered Species Act picks one species over thousands of others in the Klamath Basin.  

   Oregon spotted frog habitat

   The Oregon spotted frog was first identified as a candidate for ESA protection in 1993 due to habitat destruction, a limited species range and predators such as bullfrogs.

   A number of species of concern had been backlogged under USFWS’ “warranted but precluded” framework, and a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity helped streamline ESA listings.

   According to USFWS, the historic range of the spotted frog has been reduced by at least 76 percent and maybe as much as 90 percent, and habitat continues to be impacted and/or destroyed by human activities that result in the loss of wetlands, hydrologic changes, reduced water quality and vegetation changes.

   “If there was anyone left who had any doubts that we’ve taken too much water out of the Klamath Basin and destroyed too many wetlands,” Pedery said, “this is one more piece of evidence that we’re in a very bad situation and the only way out is to start undoing some of the damage we’ve done.”

   The Oregon spotted frog, or Rana pretiosa, is the most aquatic native frog species in the Pacific Northwest. The USFWS says they are almost always found in or near perennial bodies of water   and tend to do best in larger wetlands.

   A number of studies show the historical loss of wetlands in the Klamath Basin, which scientists argue has led to the loss of spotted frog habitat.

   USFWS has identified a number of Klamath Basin locations where the frogs once proliferated and are no longer found.

   Current habitat areas include Klamath Marsh, the Williamson River subbasin, Upper Klamath Lake, Wood River, Spencer and Jenny Creek.

   Former habitat areas include Sprague River, Lake Ewauna, the upper Klamath River and Lost River.

   USFWS says Oregon spotted frogs are likely no longer found in the California portion of the Klamath Basin.  

   The agency report identifies the worst degradation and drainage of wetlands having occurred in the early 20th century at Tule and Lower Klamath lakes.

   “The agency’s obligation is not just to preserve the remnant population that is left, they’re required to recover the species,” Pedery said. “What these critters need is wetlands, and the biggest area of wetlands in the Basin that’s been lost is Tule Lake and Lower Klamath (national wildlife refuges).”

   Whitsett argues farmland in the area is preferable to expanded wetlands. “Why we would go back to create mosquito-breeding swamps is   beyond my comprehension,” he said.

   Strict regulations minimize current wetland losses and restoration efforts are widespread in the Klamath Basin. Nevertheless, USFWS says Upper Klamath Lake wetlands have been severely altered and are unlikely to provide all their historic functions.

   Additional risk factors for Oregon spotted frogs in the Klamath Basin include drought, livestock grazing, and population growth and development.

   Seda recognizes that while restoration work is needed in the Klamath Basin, it’s only one piece of the spotted frog puzzle.

   “We need to achieve good things here, but it also needs to occur through the rest of Washington and Oregon,” Seda said.  

  AP file photos

   A female Oregon spotted frog from the Owyhee Mountains of southwestern Idaho is pictured above. Pressed by a settlement of a lawsuit by a conservation group, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed listing the frog as a threatened species. The frog is the latest of dozens of species the service has put on a timetable for consideration for protection as a result of the lawsuit.





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