The Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog in the Sierra Nevada: A Historical Perspective

Authors: Sherri Sheu*, University of Colorado Boulder
Topics: Historical Geography, Tourism Geography, Environment
Keywords: environment, California, Sierra Nevada, frogs, ecology, conservation, historical geography
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: 8217, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The mountain yellow-legged frog (Rana muscosa) was once the most prolific amphibian in the Sierra Nevada. Joseph Grinnell’s survey based on a decade of fieldwork in the region noted that when working around high elevation water, “one's progress along the bank of a pool is announced by a series of splashes ten to twenty-five feet ahead, as the numerous frogs in quick succession take to the safety of the water.” However, by the late 1970s, the mountain yellow-legged frog had virtually disappeared from vast stretches of the Sierra Nevada with seemingly no explanation. Ecologists and herpetologists searched for clues for years, before finding their culprit in the Tablelands, a swatch of high altitude Sierra granite straddling Bishop’s Pass where Sequoia National Park abuts the John Muir Wilderness. Only on the Sequoia side do the Rana still live in the lakes. This paper examines how this ecological divide formed, framed through the divergent paths each space took in the 1960s and 1970s. By charting the sometimes-vicious debates that occurred over fish stocking, this paper argues that the divisions in ecology are in part constructed through ideologies of power, race, and privilege. Outside of the park, affluent and largely white trout anglers cast their support in favor of continued trout stocking and argued for the historic precedence of stocking. In contrast, park managers and scientists seemed to ignore the needs and desires of contemporary humans in the pursuit of an imagined ecological past free from people.

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