May 7, 2024 |Gretchen Hoffmann

Conserving Critical Amphibian Habitat

Amphibians come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but they are all ectotherms — animals that have little internal control of their body temperature, which therefore changes with that of their environment. Some amphibians spend part of their lives in water and part on land, but many are direct developers, meaning they never have an aquatic phase.

Let’s explore a few “toadally” cool examples of how The Conservation Fund has successfully protected sensitive amphibian habitat across the country.

Wyoming Toads: One of the Most Endangered Amphibians in North America

The Wyoming toad was truly on the brink of extinction several decades ago. With only 10 individual toads remaining and the species on the Federal endangered species list, scientists and conservationists banded together to save them. It’s thought that Wyoming toads declined due to habitat degradation and alteration, disease and pesticide use.

Photo by Mark Gocke.

Researchers started breeding toads in captivity to control for the negative effects of climate change and pesticide use on the very sensitive eggs; however, disease is still a major threat that impedes species recovery. Many of the toads become sick due to the amphibian chytrid fungus. Good, heterogeneous habitats that provide wetlands and places to bask may be key to helping reduce disease pressures on the recovering toad populations.

Photo by Ben Herndon.

The Conservation Fund stepped up to protect prime Wyoming toad habitat outside the city of Laramie, Wyoming and in 2023 part of the larger property we conserved became the Wyoming Toad Conservation Area under the management of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The streams, grasslands and marshes of the roughly 1,000-acre Wyoming Toad Conservation Area will provide the species with fertile ground to recover in numbers. Captive-bred toads will continue to be released on site, but there is a long way to go before they are no longer considered an endangered species.

“Preserving and protecting habitat for the Wyoming toad is one of the most important things we can do to help recover the species. Wyoming toads have an extremely limited range and require specific wetland habitats, so it’s really important to protect those habitats or they will be even more limited.”

- Rachel Arrick, Recovery and SSA Coordinator, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Photo by Ben Herndon.

Amphibians Living in Working Forests

Like the risks facing many amphibian species, working forests are also facing widespread loss and present a pressing conservation challenge. The United States is projected to lose 13 million acres of forestland by 2050, which will impact everything from climate resiliency, local economies and immeasurable numbers of plant and animal species.

Skinner Mountain Forest. Photo by David Johnston.

In northeastern Tennessee, The Conservation Fund protected over 14,700 acres of forests, gorges, cliffs, waterfalls and caves and worked with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to protect the land as part of the Skinner Mountain Wildlife Management area. The now permanently conserved forest will remain sustainably managed for timber production while preserving biodiverse habitat and providing new public recreational access.

Green salamander. Photo by Daniel Istvanko.

The only place in the world where you’ll find the Red Hills salamander is in a sliver of habitat range roughly 30 miles long and a few miles wide in Alabama between Mobile and Montgomery. This forested region known as the Red Hills faces immense, irreversible risks of being broken up and lost to conversion and development.

Named after the region to which it is endemic, the Red Hills salamander is federally listed as threatened. It faces threats including habitat loss, climate change and disease. Dark brown with short legs and about 8 inches in length when fully grown, Red Hills salamanders are direct developers, meaning they live their entire lives on land. They are lungless and breathe through their moist skin.

Red Hills salamander. Photo by Jason Ross, USFWS.

In 2023, The Conservation Fund purchased approximately 23,000 acres that overlapped significantly with the Red Hills salamander habitat — a critical first step in securing as much of the property as possible for future long-term protections. We’ve named it the Alabama Red Hills Salamander Forest in honor of the official state amphibian of Alabama. While the property is managed through our Working Forest Fund, we will support habitat restoration, public access and climate change benefits, as well as economic opportunities via forest-related jobs. During the next several years, we will work with partners to permanently protect critical habitat in the Alabama Red Hills Salamander Forest.

“The greatest need for Red Hills salamander conservation is to permanently conserve large pieces of continuous habitat. The Conservation Fund’s work in acquiring thousands of acres for this incredible species is a major boon to the conservation and recovery of one of the most iconic salamanders in the world, ensuring that they will continue to be an important part of the Red Hills ecosystem.”

- JJ Apodaca, Ph.D., Amphibian and Reptile Conservancy Executive Director

Photo by Jay Brittain.

Whether in places like Alabama Red Hills Salamander Forest, North Coast forests in California or Ten Mile River Forest in New York’s Catskill Mountains, amphibians thrive when they have clean water and healthy forest habitat to depend on. Protecting working forests and the species that depend on them is an essential part of our mission at The Conservation Fund.

Amphibian residents of our North Coast Forests (left; photo by Ivan LaBianca) and Ten Mile River Forest (right; photo by Michael Lennon).

Written by

Gretchen Hoffmann

In her role as Blog Manager, Gretchen Hoffmann helps share unique perspectives, projects and people from across The Conservation Fund and our partners. She enjoys being able to combine her passion for storytelling with her love of nature and conservation, and has worked on our blog, Redefining Conservation, since its launch in 2015. Gretchen holds a Master of Science in Biomedical Journalism from New York University and a Bachelor of Science from Cornell University. She lives in Westport, CT, where she enjoys playing tennis, working in her garden and being on the water with her family.