Safe Harbor protects threatened frog

Posted by Christine, May 10, 2012

David Sneed reports in the San Luis Obispo Tribune:

The owner of a Cayucos ranch has agreed to work with federal wildlife officials to protect California red-legged frogs.

Under a Safe Harbor Agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Swallow Creek Ranch three miles north of Cayucos will manage a creek and pond on the property to improve habitat for the frogs, which are federally listed as threatened. In exchange, the ranch is protected if a listed species is incidentally killed or injured; it also accrues other benefits such as not having restrictions on the property if the population of a listed species increases.

“For years, we’ve tried to balance ranching with protecting the land,” said Paul Grafton of Swallow Creek Ranch. “The SHA gives us a long-term plan as well as specific tools to help enhance the habitat of red-legged frogs on the property’s watershed.”

Red-legged frogs spend much of their life cycle in aquatic habitats. A 1.75-acre pond on the ranch and Swallow Creek itself will be managed as breeding habitat for the frog by removing invasive plants and replacing them with native ones.

The 620-acre ranch is owned by Duane Waddell. Historically, the ranch was a dairy farm, but Waddell now raises hormone-free, grass-fed beef.

Red-legged frogs have been found in the pond, as well as in numerous pools in the creek.

When Waddell purchased the ranch in 1985, its wildlife habitat was degraded. Over the years, Waddell has improved it by restoring native plants.

In addition to being habitat for red-legged frogs, the ranch is a breeding and nesting site for cliff swallows, which give the ranch and creek its name, and a large colony of monarch butterflies winter in a eucalyptus grove.

The red-legged frog is the largest native frog in the Western United States. However, it suffers from habitat loss and competition from the larger, nonnative bullfrog.

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