A 61-acre strip of land near the Greensprings could soon receive additional federal oversight to protect a threatened frog.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service proposed listing the Oregon spotted frog as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in August. A final listing determination will be made by September 2014, the end of the 2013-14 federal fiscal year, officials said.
If the frog is listed, 48 acres of Bureau of Land Management land and 13 acres of private land near the Parsnip Lakes will be listed as critical habitat, or lands with features deemed beneficial to species conservation.
The Parsnip Lakes are a series of small lakes or ponds and wetlands, all formed by natural springs and located within the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.
While that location already limits development, projects that are federally funded or require federal permits would face heightened scrutiny if the frog were declared threatened.
"If there are activities that are going to be done on those lands that involve some federal funding or permits, then there's conversation that needs to be entered in with the Fish & Wildlife Service," said Jim Thrailkill, USFWS field supervisor in the Roseburg Field Office. "There's a perception that it's a 'hands off' or a reserve, and that's not the case. There are still allowable activities."
About 68,000 acres and 23 stream miles would be affected across Oregon and Washington if the frog is listed as a threatened species. About 67 percent of those lands are federally owned. More than one-quarter of the proposed area is in the Klamath Basin.
USFWS officials said the species is a key part of a food web its entire life, eating dead and dying plants in ponds as a tadpole and mosquitoes and other pests as an adult.
"It's one of the most aquatic frogs in Oregon," Thrailkill told the Jackson County Board of Commissioners at a Nov. 12 meeting.
USFWS officials said its population has been affected statewide by lower water levels, overgrazing, predators such as bullfrogs and invasive plants encroaching on habitat. Historically, their habitat range extended from British Columbia to northeastern California. That territory has shrunk by about 76 percent, according to a release from USFWS. There are still limited populations in Jackson, Lane, Wasco, Deschutes and Klamath counties in Oregon and five counties in Washington state.
Jackson County's commissioners have reservations about the idea and its impact on private property owners.
"The concern is that it's just getting to be death by 1,000 cuts," Commission Chairman Don Skundrick said. "We are trying to watch out for our constituents' property values and property rights. It seems like every time we turn around, there's another species or subspecies somewhere that's being listed."
Skundrick added the current area of consideration is small, but that the impact is seen when numerous similar small parcels are added up.
"A combination of these little things adds up to be a big thing," Skundrick said.
Hugh Charley, a cattle rancher who lives in Jackson County but owns a ranch off Clover Creek Road in Klamath County, said his ranch is near one of the populations being studied in the Klamath Basin. Charley said he has heard stories of other ranchers losing grazing allotments because of areas that are designated as critical habitat, but he wasn't too concerned for his own operation.
"Just because they're saying the numbers are pretty good around there, I don't feel really too threatened by it," he said. "But you never know. I suppose I am a little worried just because of the way things can happen."
An economic analysis that will be used as data in the final consideration is due out next month, Thrailkill said.
Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.