Frog and Toad: Western Landowners to the Rescue

It’s summertime, and we loved hearing this NPR story by Melodie Edwards about hundreds of endangered toads being released onto private lands, and the public/private effort that made it happen. And just last week Executive Director Lesli Allison got to see the Turner Endangered Species Fund’s recovery efforts taking place on their ranches to help recover the Chiricahua leopard frog (below).

Chiricahua leopard frog

Both are great examples of the private landowner innovation taking place in the West, and the kinds of federal incentives and assurances needed to remove the very real “fear factor” that can often accompany the discovery of an endangered or imperiled species on private property.

According to Edwards, “the toad was once so common that ranchers would find them in their cowboy boots.” A fungus, pesticides and poorly managed irrigation systems caused their near extinction. A last few survivors were the seed stock of a wildly successful breeding program managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Three hundred of the nine hundred “recovered” toads hopped onto landowner Fred Lindsay’s ranch. His old fashioned flood irrigation system makes great habitat, and he’s willing to push back his haying operation a bit to make it work. He says that the “ideal habitat for the toad is also the idea habitat for ranching.”

Likewise, the Malpai Borderlands Group in the Arizona and New Mexico has also been involved in recovery efforts for the Chiricahua leopard frog. A project with Arizona Fish and Game there helped a rancher create a pond for both frogs and cattle. Malpai Rancher Bill McDonald believes that “cattle are not just compatible with rare species, but often they are beneficial. We’ve found that if you do the right thing for one, it tends to help the other.”

In the case of the Wyoming toad and the Chiricahua leopard frog, landowners were given assurances that they wouldn’t be penalized for their actions. A lot of ranchers “worry that when you have an endangered species on your property, the feds will butt into your business,” said Edwards. That’s why all these ranchers have signed assurances with federal and/or state government. Said Livesay, “we signed what’s called a safe harbor agreement. And basically what that means is during normal operations, if we were to run over a toad or step on a toad, we wouldn’t go to federal prison.” For conservation minded landowners like Lindsay, McDonald and Turner, that security has translated into a lot of habitat for frogs and toads.

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