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Mother Lode Counties “Critical Habitat”

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Sonora, CA — Thousands of acres across Tuolumne and Calaveras Counties could soon be designated as critical habitat for the protection of the Sierra Nevada Yellow-Legged Frog and Yosemite Toad.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency released a proposal yesterday that would designate two million acres as critical habitat, as the two amphibians are being considered for Endangered Species status. A report from the federal government states that the Sierra Nevada Frogs were once very common in the region, but their population has declined as a result of things like habitat destruction, climate change and drifting pesticides. The same report states that Yosemite Toads are threatened by livestock grazing, climate change and pesticides.

Related to the yellow-legged frog, the proposal calls for 26.444 acres to be designated critical habitat near the North Fork of the Mokelumne River. The land is located in the Stanislaus National Forest and includes part of Tuolumne, Calaveras and Alpine Counties.

28,939 acres would be designated in the Wells Peak area. It includes land in Tuolumne, Mono and Alpine Counties. It is approximately four miles west of Highway 395, and bounded by Highway 108 on the south.

2,704 acres would receive designation near Spiller Lake in Tuolumne County. It is entirely on federal land situated within the Yosemite National Park boundaries. Also within Yosemite, and in Tuolumne County, would be 2,203 acres near Virginia Canyon, and 2,070 acres near Register Creek.

For the Yosemite Toad, 76,115 acres would become critical habitat in the Leavitt Lake region, which is near the border of Tuolumne, Alpine and Mono Counties. 29,150 acres would be designated in the Rogers Meadow Region, along the border of Tuolumne and Mono Counties, north of Highway 120. There is also a large 139,688 acre stretch in the Tuolumne Meadows region, which covers parts of Tuolumne, Mono, Mariposa and Madera Counties.

The federal government defines “critical habitat” as a specific geographic area that is essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species, and that may require special management and protection. It also requires an extensive review of any projects that would impact the habitat of those areas.

The proposal is being pushed by environmental group The Center For Biological Diversity. It has received criticism from groups like the California Cattlemen’s Association.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency will accept comments on the proposal for the next two months. If eventually approved, the designations would take effect in 2014.

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