Though the mountain yellow legged frogs and Yosemite toad have been listed as endangered and threatened, respectively, the controversial critical habitat designation associated with those listings is still up in the air.
The Inyo County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, outlining local concerns about the habitat proposals and how they will impact residents and visitors to the area and requesting that popular recreation areas remain accessible to residents and visitors.
First District Supervisor Linda Arcularius said that, despite USFWS officials’ claims that the designations won’t cut off access to popular recreation areas, the single greatest threat to the amphibians is a virus that is transmitted from one population to the next.
If humans are causing the spread of the virus, she fears that human access will be cut off. “If critical habitat also means that many of these areas are not going to be accessible by humans then that’s a problem,” Arcularius said, adding that her goal is to protect current recreational uses. “That’s what our economic data is based on, these areas being used.”
On April 29, 2014 the USFWS officially listed the mountain yellow legged frogs as endangered and the Yosemite toad as threatened. The agency is also proposing 2 million acres of critical habitat, which includes portions of Inyo County and the crest of the Sierra. The final decision on the critical habitat proposal is scheduled for early 2015.
To ensure that future designations don’t impact current uses, the board’s letter requests that several areas currently proposed for critical habitat designations, including South Lake, the South Fork of Bishop Creek, Treasure Lakes, Lamark Creek, the North Fork of Bishop Creek and the Piute Pass drainage, Rock Creek and Rock Creek Lake, Pine Creek, Independence Creek, the North Fork of Big Pine Creek, Baker Creek, Birch Creek and others be removed from critical habitat consideration.
Since the endangered, threatened and critical habitat designations were proposed, the Board of Supervisors has written a number of letters to USFWS officials, requesting meetings, hearings and an extension of the comment period.
The board also responded to the Draft Economic Analysis prepared by the USFWS, and independently prepared its own economic analysis.
A special meeting was held in conjunction with the USFWS Sept. 23, 2013, and workshops and hearings were held in both Bridgeport and Sacramento, with local leaders attending.
The letter the board approved Tuesday requests that the USFWS continues to refine the critical habitat designation to minimize restrictions to existing activities on local public lands. The letter also requests that the federal agency recognizes Inyo County as a “vested stakeholder in the development of the species recovery plan,” and be consulted accordingly as work proceeds.
“There are no further public comment periods associated with either the listing or the designation,” Associate Planner Elaine Kabala said Tuesday. “However, staff anticipates providing further input in response to the critical habitat designation as part of the species recovery planning process, and at other times as deemed appropriate.”
Kabala told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday that the USFWS seems to be responsive to local input and, thus far, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has not been directed to change its fish stocking program in light of the endangered and threatened species listings. Kabala did add that the designations approved earlier this year don’t officially go into effect until the end of June.