The relict leopard frog has the dubious distinction of being one of the first North American amphibians thought to have become extinct. Although the species was known to have inhabited more than 60 springs in the Southwest, the last historical collections of the frog were in the 1950s before this rare amphibian was rediscovered at eight springs in Nevada in the early 1990s. Still, the population is teetering on the brink of extinction. Frogs have subsequently disappeared from two of the rediscovered localities and only about 500 to 1,100 adult frogs remain, half at a single location. None of the springs occupied by relict leopard frogs are secure from human impacts.

Because of the dangerously small population size of the rediscovered relict leopard frog, the Center and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2002 to list the species as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Instead of giving the species the official endangered status it deserves, the Service designated the frog as a candidate for federal listing. The Center filed a lawsuit in 2005 against the Service for failing to make “expeditious progress” in protecting the relict leopard frog and 285 other known imperiled species on the candidate waiting list.

State and federal wildlife agencies spent five years drafting a conservation agreement and strategy for the frog, and reintroductions of captive-reared relict leopard frogs began at six springs in Arizona and Utah in 2006. But the frog needs Endangered Species Act protection — and thanks to a 2011 Center settlement with the Fish and Wildlife Service covering 757 species, this rare amphibian should get a listing proposal by 2016.

Photo © Tom Brennan