Feds drop toad from protection possibility | SummitDaily.com

Feds drop toad from protection possibility

Summit Daily/Bob BerwynTown of Breckenridge toad survey team members prepare to inject a visible dye tag to a boreal toad found in Cucumber Gulch this summer. The wetlands complex in Breckenridge has been tagged as potentially one of the best boreal toad habitats in the state by Colorado Division of Wildlife biologists, but Wednesday's decision by federal officials to remove the amphibian from consideration for listing under the Endangered Species Act could hamper research and recovery efforts.

SUMMIT COUNTY ” Warts and all, boreal toads in the Southern Rockies may be headed for extinction following Wednesday’s decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to withdraw the amphibian from its waiting spot for the endangered species list.

Summit County harbors several breeding populations of boreal toads, most of which have persisted during the recent spread of a deadly fungus that has killed off many toads and other amphibians in North America and around the globe at an alarming rate.

Boreal toads are also on the state endangered species list, and Colorado Division of Wildlife officials said the federal decision wouldn’t have an immediate effect on the state’s recovery effort. That includes breeding boreal toads at an aquatic research facility and trying to re-establish populations around the state.

Cucumber Gulch, a wetlands complex in the town of Breckenridge, has been identified as prime habitat for boreal toads, and state biologists have suggested it could serve as a potential re-introduction site. A toad survey in Cucumber Gulch this summer turned up only two animals, but according to anecdotal accounts from longtime residents of the area, the Gulch was once home to a thriving population.

The decision by Breckenridge to protect Cucumber Gulch as a nature preserve was in part due to its potential as habitat for the rare amphibians.

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The Fish and Wildlife service said the toad is not warranted for listing because it can’t be classified as a distinct population segment. The Southern Rockies population doesn’t fill a unique ecological niche, and loss of the population would only result in a small gap in the overall boreal toad range, the agency concluded. Related subspecies of boreal toads are common in parts of the Northern Rockies ranging all the way to British Columbia.

Finally, after a bit of genetic hair-splitting, the agency said the best available scientific evidence doesn’t show that the Southern Rockies boreal toad is genetically different from other populations in the Northern Rockies.

But that finding runs contrary to some of the most recent research on boreal toads, including the agency’s own species assessment done just a few years ago, when researchers suggested that boreal toads might qualify as an entirely separate species.

That science has now been undermined at the political level, said Erin Roberts, staff biologist with the Center for Native Ecosystems. Roberts said her organization will sue the federal government over its decision to remove boreal toads from the Endangered Species Act candidate species list.

“We have no other choice,” Robertson said. “This decision is completely out of line with the science.”

The decision to remove boreal toads from ESA listing consideration could result in a loss of federal funds for toad research, Roberts said. Without federal attention, the issue of amphibian conservation could lose momentum, she added.

Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228 or at bberwyn@summitdaily.com.

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