The latest: A worrying amphibian decline

  • Boreal toads are just one amphibian species suffering from mysterious population declines.

    Montana FWP

Scientists have known for years that frogs and toads are in rough shape. Nearly a third of all amphibian species face extinction -- including the boreal toad, once common in high mountains around the West ("Toads on high," HCN, 8/22/11). Climate change, habitat loss and disease are all factors in the decline; chytrid fungus, which spread from escaped African clawed frogs, is also probably a major culprit.

A new study pinpoints just how rapidly frogs and toads are dying, finding that American amphibians disappeared from nearly 4 percent of their habitat every year from 2002-2011. Threatened species, like California's mountain yellow-legged frog, are disappearing the fastest but even common varieties of frogs and toads are on a downward spiral. "Some of the really dramatic declines seemed to be in some of the best-protected areas," lead author and U.S. Geological Survey ecologist Michael Adams said, suggesting that even national park-level protection doesn't shield amphibians from mysterious maladies.

Eric Mills
Eric Mills
Jun 10, 2013 07:14 PM
The aforementioned chytrid fungus (Bd) is thought to have caused the extinctions of some 200 frog and other amphibian species worldwide in recent years.

A major component of the problem is the commerce in American bullfrogs for human consumption. California, for example, annually imports some TWO MILLION of these non-native frogs (most are commercially-raised in Taiwan). Recent studies have shown that the majority of the market frogs test positive for chytrid. Though the bullfrogs don't succumb to the disease, they certainly do disperse it when bought and released into local waters (a common though illegal practice, often by certain religious sects in "animal liberation" ceremonies, and by well-meaning but ill-informed "do-gooders"). Not only do the bullfrogs spread diseases, they also prey upon and displace our native species.

PARTIAL SOLUTION: In 2010, the CA State Fish & Game Commission voted 5:0, instructing the Dept. of Fish & Wildlife to cease issuing the import permits for frogs and turtles for human consumption. (CA also imports some 300,000 to 400,000 non-native freshwater turtles every year for the markets, all taken from the wild in states east of the Rockies, depleting local populations). The Department chose to ignore the Commission's instructions (and their own mandate to protect native species), responding that, "The Director acts at the pleasure of the Governor." Say what?! This, despite the fact that the Dept. has received more than 3,000 letters in recent years in support for the ban--letters from sportsmen's organizations, environmentalists, legislators and the the general public. Former Resources Secretary Huey Johnson wrote twice in support of the ban. Nada. Sadly, the issue has more do do with politics and "culture" than environmental protection. (Almost all the markets are in various "Chinatowns" throughout California: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Sacramento, etc. Even now, Australia and the European Union allow only FROZEN frog parts to be imported for food. The U.S. should follow suit, before we lose all our amphibians.

HOW YOU CAN HELP: Write to John Laird, California Secretary of Resources, and Chuck Bonham, Director of the Department of Fish & Wildlife, both at 1416 Ninth Street, Sacramento, CA 95814.
GOVERNOR JERRY BROWN & all legislators - c/o The State Capitol, Sacramento, Ca 95814.

At the very least, urge the Commission to re-agendize the live animal market issue, as we were promised in October of 2013 they would do in 2013 (Mike Sutton, president. EMAIL -

Eric Mills, coordinator
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