Sacramento - Conservationists are offering a reward for information leading to the identification and conviction of dirt bikers who damaged a beautiful mountain meadow that is vital habitat for the Yosemite toad, a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act. The damage also compromises an expensive and important five-year research study.
“This is not recreation; this is inexcusable vandalism,” said Karen Schambach, California Coordinator for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). “The perpetrators need to be held accountable, and the message needs to get out that this kind of activity will not be tolerated.”
The Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation, PEER and the Center for Biological Diversity are offering a $1,500 reward for information leading to the identification and conviction of the off-roaders who damaged the meadow. It is a violation of federal regulations to operate a vehicle in a manner that causes resource damage. Further, vehicles are not allowed to drive off routes specifically designated for their use.
On June 24, a Forest Service research team arrived at Groundhog Meadow near Herring Creek and saw a blue pickup truck being loaded with motorcycles and beating a hasty retreat. The researchers walked into the study area to find it badly ripped up by motorcycle tires. Groundhog Meadow is one of several included in a comprehensive analysis to determine trends and affects on amphibian populations in the Sierra Nevada. Other study sites are located in the Sierra National Forest and in Yosemite National Park. The research project is a collaborative effort between scientists from the Forest Service Pacific Southwest Sierra Nevada Research Center, University of California at Berkeley and Yosemite National Park. While the meadow will eventually recover, the damage seriously compromises the five-year study by altering the study area.
“The damage to the Yosemite toad breeding population in this meadow and to the entire meadow ecosystem is appalling,” said Lisa Belenky, Senior Attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Clearly, the Yosemite toad habitat requires better protections, and this wonton damage highlights the need for additional limits on motorized access to sensitive riparian areas in the Sierra Nevada ecosystem.”
The colorful Yosemite toad was once one of the most common high-elevation amphibians. Active for only four to five months per year, it has just a few months in which to reproduce and eat enough to survive the winter hibernating under the snow. Its numbers have declined precipitously throughout the Sierra Nevada, and since 2002 it has been a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act.
“Proper use of our National Forests comes with individual responsibility. Be wise stewards of public land. Please consider the impact your activities have on the land,” said Jerry Snyder, Stanislaus National Forest public affairs officer.
The Forest Service is looking for those who are responsible for this incident so that restitution can be made. If anyone has information about this, or any similar incident, please contact the California Fish and Game Environmental Crime Hotline at 1-888-334-2258 or the Stanislaus National Forest at (209) 532-3671. Anyone wanting to contribute additional reward money is asked to call Karen Schambach at 530-305-0503.