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Fodder for Thought

Score: Livestock - 1, Toads - 0.

Scientists say Yosemite Toad uses different habitat than cattle; livestock grazing not an issue.


Removing livestock an grazing from public lands still seems to be the go-to solution for environmentalists when it comes to threatened wildlife species. Of course, that isn't always the answer.

In the case of the Yosemite Toad, recent study results published in the November issue of PLOS One are showing restriction of livestock grazing did nothing to improve toad populations. The Yosemite Toad is a species of true toad native to the Sierra Nevada region of California. It has shown substantial decline in distribution and abundance in recent years. Currently, the Yosemite toad is being considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The five-year study, "Determining the Effects of Cattle Grazing Treatments on Yosemite Toads in Montane Meadows," was conducted by researchers from University of California – Davis. Overall it showed no significant benefits from fencing livestock, specifically cattle, out of toad habitat. Instead, researchers discovered toad population size varied across meadows and was dependent on meadow wetness, which was directly correlated to natural precipitation the meadow received.

In another surprising conclusion from the study researchers suggested different forest activities, like logging, may actually contribute to creation of new toad habitat by preventing encroachment of coniferous trees. In turn, that could allow more water to be available in the meadows important to breeding for the Yosemite toad.

Globally, scientists have documented a significant decline in amphibian populations. Possible reasons leading to the decline include disease, pesticides, climate change, habitat changes, invasive species, and grazing. In the Yosemite toad's situation, it appears grazing by livestock can now be ruled out for the time being.

"We basically found the Yosemite toad and cattle use the landscape differently," Ken Tate told the California Farm Bureau. Tate is lead researcher on the project and rangeland watershed specialist for UC Cooperative Extension. "The toads use water areas and the cattle use drier meadow areas, which provide better forage."

To read the study in full click on PLOS One:

An in-depth report on the topic can be found in California Farm Bureau's Ag Alert here:

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