Sierra Nevada Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog (Rana sierrae and Rana muscosa)
April 29, 2014: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declares both species in danger of extinction...scroll below to "Status" to read more.
Once the most abundant frog in the Sierra Nevada, the mountain yellow-legged frog is now critically endangered in the Range of Light. Populations of mountain yellow-legged frogs have declined dramatically and they are now found in fewer than 7 percent of their historic localities. This decline is due to a number of factors, including the stocking of fish in high elevation lakes, many of which did not contain fish historically. As a result of these fish stocking efforts, which continue today, more than 90% of Sierra Nevada lakes which were naturally fish-less now contain introduced trout. There is abundant scientific evidence that predation by non-native trout on mountain yellow-legged frog tadpoles, as well as adults, is a major factor in the decline of this amphibian. Other factors leading to declines in population include toxins from pesticides and herbicides, livestock impacts, chytrid fungal infection, and off-highway vehicle (OHV) recreation.
The habitat of the mountain yellow-legged frog consists of glaciated lakes, ponds, tarns, springs, and streams in the upper elevations (above 6,000 feet generally) of the Sierra Nevada. The adaptations that allow them to live at these high elevations and cold temperatures have made them highly vulnerable to introduced fish species. The species is usually associated with montane riparian habitats in lodgepole pine, yellow pine, sugar pine, white fir, whitebark pine, and wet meadow vegetation types, and range from southern Plumas County to southern Tulare County.
Nearly all the remaining populations of mountain yellow-legged frog occur on public lands, and studies have demonstrated that in the absence of disease, it is possible to bring these species back to recovery. Recent surveys, however, have shown an increase in the deadly disease, chytridiomycosis. The Sierra Nevada Framework Plan provides strategies to reduce all the factors causing a decline in mountain yellow-legged frog populations including prohibition of pesticides from frog habitat, removing livestock near lakes and pond areas, prohibiting development of new recreation trails that would affect known frog sites, and the identification of Critical Aquatic Refuges to protect sensitive species. It also calls for the removal of exotic fish from frog habitat. The 2004 revisions to the Framework have weakened the protections for the mountain yellow-legged frog by failing to maintain grazing restrictions for amphibian species in key habitats. A return to a robust monitoring and restoration program as promoted and required by the original Sierra Nevada Framework is vital to protect the species from disappearing from the Sierra Nevada altogether.
Sierra Forest Legacy's Conservation Strategy, Appendix A, incudes recommendations for conservation of mountain yellow-legged frog that can be used to inform public involvement in forest management plan revisions now going forward on the Sierra, Lake Tahoe Basin, Sequoia, and Inyo National Forests.
Until recently, the mountain yellow-legged frog in the northern and central Sierra Nevada, and those in the mountains of southern California, were thought to be the same species. Today the Sierra Nevada mountain yellow-legged frog--specifically, those frogs north of Mather Pass--is recognized as a unique species, Rana sierrae. The species are thought to have diverged more than 2 million years ago. Both species are critically endangered with extinction. Surveys have shown that 93% of the R. sierrae and 95% of R. muscosa historical populations are now extinct.
In 2003 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) determined that the Sierra Nevada population of the mountain yellow-legged frog should be protected under the Endangered Species Act, but that listing the species under the Act is "warranted but precluded" by the agency's backload of priorities and budget constraints. Subsequent legal action on behalf of the species resulted in a 2007 USFWS 12-month petition finding (see below, in Supporting Documents) that the mountain yellow-legged frog is still precluded from listing under the Endangered Species Act, basically due to the agency's lack of funds and priority allocation. Such administrative delaying is pushing the species closer to extinction throughout the Sierra Nevada.
On September 15, 2010, the California Fish and Game Commission accepted a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity to list all populations of the mountain yellow-legged frog (Rana muscosa and Rana sierrae) as "endangered" under the California Endangered Species Act. As a result, on October 1 both species were listed as "candidate" species and will be managed as "endangered" until the final decision on whether to list the species is made. On February 2, 2012, the California Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to add both species of mountain yellow-legged frog to the state threatened and endangered species list. You can read the latest DFG Status Review, from November, 2011 here.
FINAL RULE: Endangered Species Status, April 29, 2014
Today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agency issued the final ruling declaring the frogs as endangered species under the federal act. Read the final rule here. A FWS press release is available for a short time, here. On April 25, 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a proposed ruling to list both species as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. As listed species, critical habitat will be designated as necessary for the survival and recovery of the remaining frogs.
For more information about the mountain yellow-legged frog, visit the mountain yellow-legged frog website of Dr. Roland Knapp, at http://www.mylfrog.info.
Fellers, G.M., Bradford, D.F. et al. 2007. Demise of Repatriated Populations of Mountain Yellow-legged Frogs (Rana Muscosa) in the Sierra Nevada of California. Herpetological Conservation and Biology 2(1) 5-21. (562KB PDF)
Knapp, R.A., D.M. Boiano, and V.T. Vrendenburg. 2007. Removal of nonnative fish results in population expansion of a declining amphibian (mountain yellow-legged frog, Rana muscosa). Biol. Cons. 135:11-20. (497KB PDF)
Macey, J.R., J.L. Strasburg, J.A. Brisson, V.T. Vredenburg, M. Jennings, and A. Larson. 2001. Molecular phylogenetics of western North American frogs of the Rana boylii species group. Molecular Phylogenetic Evolution 19(1) 131–143. (137KB PDF)
Matthews, K.R. and K.L. Pope, 1999. A Telemetric Study of the Movement Patterns and Habitat Use of Rana muscosa, the Mountain Yellow-legged Frog, in a High-elevation Basin in Kings Canyon National Park, California. Journal of Herptology 33(4) 615-624. (276KB PDF)
Pope, K.L. and K.R. Matthews. 2001. Movement ecology and seasonal distribution of mountain yellow-legged frogs, Rana muscosa, in a high-elevation Sierra Nevada basin. Copeia 2001(3) 787-793. (177KB PDF)
Vredenburg, V.M. 2004. Reversing introduced species effects: Experimental removal of introduced fish leads to rapid recovery of a declining frog. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 101(20) 7646-7650. (340KB PDF)
Vredenburg, V., Fellers, G.M., and C. Davidson. 2005. Rana muscosa Camp 1917, Mountain Yellow-legged Frog. Pp. 563-566. In: Michael Lannoo (Ed.), Amphibian Declines: The Conservation Status of United States Species. Volume 2: Species Accounts. University of California Press, Berkeley, California. (172KB PDF)
Vredenburg, V.T., R. Bingham, R. Knapp, J.A.T. Morgan, C. Moritz, and D. Wake. 2007. Concordant molecular and phenotypic data delineate new taxonomy and conservation priorities for the endangered mountain yellow-legged frog. J. Zoology 271(361-374). (423KB PDF)
2014: FWS Programmatic Biological Opinion on Nine Forest Programs on Nine National Forests in the Sierra Nevada of California for the Endangered Sierra Nevada Yellow-legged Frog, Endangered Northern California Distinct Population Segment of the Mountain Yellow-legged Frog, and Threatened Yosemite Toad: December 19, 2014.
2014. USFW Final Rule: Endangered Species Status for Sierra Nevada Yellow-Legged Frog and Northern Distinct Population Segment of the Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog, and Threatened Species Status for Yosemite Toad (752 KB PDF)
2013. USFWS Proposed Rule: Endangered Status for the Sierra Nevada Yellow-Legged Frog and the Northern Distinct Population Segment of the Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog, and Threatened Status for the Yosemite Toad, April 25, 2013 (606 KB PDF)
2013. USFWS Proposed Designation of Critical Habitat for the Sierra Nevada Yellow-Legged Frog, the Northern Distinct Population Segment of the Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog, and the Yosemite Toad, April 25, 2013 (1.8 MB PDF)
California Department of Fish and Game Natural History Information (URL) --This California state website contains rather limited and old information but is a good basic background composite for the species. Choose from a drop-down list to select the animal you are interested in.