Image via Wikimedia Commons
Image via Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday that the western spadefoot toad, an increasingly rare Southern California amphibian, may qualify for federal protection.

The rarely seen, nocturnal 2-inch-long toad is known for a purr-like trill and its ability to burrow underground using the hardened spades on its hind feet.

But even with its unusual adaptations, the western spadefoot has been no match for development, habitat reduction and the drought, and is now threatened with extinction, said Jenny Loda, a lawyer and biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, who works to protect amphibians and reptiles.

“The drought adds an impact,” Loda told City News Service. “But the species has been suffering for many years due to habitat loss from farming and urban development.”

The toads, which are completely terrestrial except when breeding, depend on the existence of vernal rain pools and slow-moving streams, both of which have declined across the lowlands of Southern California due to construction, agricultural practices and the historic drought, Loda said.

The spadefoot toad is now listed as a “species of special concern” in California, a status that recognizes its dramatic decline but fails to afford it any legal protection.

“There’s broad scientific consensus that frogs, toads and salamanders face a profound, human-driven extinction crisis that requires swift action,” Loda said. “The Endangered Species Act has a nearly perfect record of stopping animals from going extinct. It’s hands-down our best tool for saving these guys.”

The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the federal government to review the status of the spadefoot toad and other species, resulting in a 90- day finding in which the Fish and Wildlife Service will determine whether there is sufficient cause to warrant further consideration.

The next step is a full status review of the species by the FWS.

Because of unsustainable logging practices, toxic pesticides, climate change and other human causes, nearly one in four amphibians and reptiles is at risk of dying out, scientists say.

Although they’ve been around for hundreds of millions of years and survived every major extinction period, now, due mostly to human impacts, amphibians and reptiles are dying off at up to 10,000 times the historic extinction rate, Loda said.

Their loss is alarming because they play important roles as predators and prey in their ecosystems and are valuable indicators of environmental health, she said.

— City News Service 

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