January 24, 2001 - Pasadena Star News

Arroyo toad safety area in jeopardy

Devil's Gate Dam habitat designation under review

By Lisa Faught
Staff Writer

PASADENA - A six-mile strip of wild land beyond Devil's Gate Dam is considered prime habitat for the endangered arroyo southwestern toad, but its safety zone is in jeopardy as the Bush administration reviews the recent decision to designate 180,000 acres as critical habitat.

The habitat extends along the Arroyo Seco from Long Canyon in the Angeles National Forest to the upper reaches of Devil's Gate Dam in Pasadena, according to documents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

But Friday's land designation by the agency could still be overturned as the new administration reviews last-minute decisions made before President Bush took office.

The decision will not be official until the agency gets the go-ahead to publish the decision in the Federal Register, said Hugh Vickery, spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Washington, D.C.

The reviews could also affect habitats for other species, including the peninsular bighorn sheep and the Mexican spotted owl.

"The Bush people have put a freeze on everything," Vickery said.

On Friday the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated the 180,000 acres of habitat for the endangered toad in response to a lawsuit filed by the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity.

Although the extra protection for the endangered toad is good news for the center, spokesman David Hogan said the 180,000 acres falls short of the amount of land needed to prevent its extinction. He said the Bush administration's action to review the recent habitat decisions bodes ill for the future of endangered species.

"It's the first in what is likely to be a long line of anti-environmental actions," Hogan said.

The habitat proposed for the toad initially included 478,400 acres in eight California counties, including Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena and swaths of the Los Angeles River Basin where the toad has been sighted in the last five years.

Three local public agencies the city of Pasadena, Los Angeles County Public Works and the Raymond Basin Management Board opposed including the wild land above Devil's Gate Dam.

Officials feared the designation would stall the plans for Hahamongna Watershed Park, since projects with a federal permit or funding would require a nod from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Plans for the park call for restoration of the land and creation of up to 11 soccer fields.

"What we're hoping is that when they see our habitat restoration plan, which would restore some land for the toad, that a balance can be struck," said Rosa Laveaga, Arroyo Seco park supervisor.

Local environmentalists hope the habitat designation will help protect other species living in the river and along its banks.

"What it points out is we're losing so much riparian habitat," said Mickey Long, director of Eaton Canyon Nature Center in Pasadena. "We can't save animals without habitat."

The warty toad, which resides in sandy streams, has lost an estimated 75 percent of its habitat to dams, water diversion and urban sprawl.

-- Lisa Faught can be reached at (626) 578-6300, Ext. 4496, or by e-mail at lisa.faught@sgvn.com.

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