Sometimes a “win” is the fight you don’t have to have. Instead of victories proclaimed from the steps of the courthouse, some wins are the quiet kind which involve not having to go back to court at all.

Western Watersheds Project and our allies recently had such a win, in a case over Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frogs, the northern population of mountain yellow-legged frogs, and Yosemite toads, all highly imperiled species found in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. These amphibian species are threatened by profound habitat losses, livestock grazing, pesticides, and climate change. They were all protected under the Endangered Species Act in 2014 and had critical habitat designated in 2016.

The critical habitat designation encompassed approximately 1.8 million acres of critical habitat across sixteen California counties. The overwhelming majority of the critical habitat is on federal public lands. Shortly after critical habitat was designated, The Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), an extreme private-property-rights group, filed a lawsuit challenging habitat protections on behalf of the California Cattlemen’s Association, California Farm Bureau Federation, and California Wool Growers Association. The livestock industry apparently thought that saving these species from extinction was just too much red tape, and so they fought to overturn the protections conferred by the critical habitat plan. WWP and our colleagues intervened in the lawsuit in 2017.

In March of this past year, a court dismissed the PLF-led case, saying that the critical habitat designation didn’t actually cause any harm to the plaintiffs. The livestock groups couldn’t provide the court with a single example of how the designation directly affected their ranching operations. (And while it is good news that these were the grounds for the lawsuit’s dismissal, it’s a sad commentary on the regulatory teeth that this important tool has for protecting habitats.)

But the best news came at the end of May 2019, after PLF passed their deadline to file a notice of appeal of the court’s decision. This means that the critical habitat designation will stand indefinitely and that WWP and our allies, and the government agency we sided with, won’t have to waste any more time in court defending the good 2016 decision. It’s a win we didn’t have to fight for.

Many thanks due to our co-intervenors, Center for Biological Diversity and Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center.

About The Author

Greta Anderson

Greta Anderson is a plant nerd, a desert rat, and a fan of wildness. She is the Deputy Director of Western Watersheds Project and lives on the land of the Tohono O'Odham and Yaqui people in what is now called Arizona. Greta's opinions and world views are not necessarily reflected in the posts of other authors on this blog.

6 Responses to A quiet victory in defense of three of California’s rare amphibians.

  1. idaursine says:

    Good to hear! Thank you to all! 🙂

  2. Rob says:

    Nice to hear some good news. Thanks.

  3. Rich says:

    Thanks Greta for passing the good news along. As a long term supporter of WWP I appreciate all the great work your organization is doing. What impact will the critical habitat designation have if the managers of the federal lands elect to turn a blind eye and allow the cattle and sheep grazers to destroy critical habitats? What are the chances of enforcing the restrictions to protect the amphibians and who will monitor and ensure compliance?

    • Greta Anderson says:

      The critical habitat gives a legal hook for ensuring against blind eyes in this area.

  4. It invites them to tinker. Impossible.

  5. Robert Goldman says:

    Beautiful. So happy for these critters and their land. Thank you for sharing this and for helping to make it happen.


July 2019


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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