ENDANGERED TOAD DISCOVERED ON HOLTZ RANCH IN SILVERADO
(Silverado, April 26, 2005) For the first time in 20 years, larvae of the nearly extinct Arroyo Southwestern Toad have been observed in Silverado Creek on the 318-acre Holtz Ranch site, currently slated for mass-graded development of estate homes.
The sightings, made on April 26, were verified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and incorporated into the agency’s data base. The species was last sighted in Santiago Creek in 1985 in lower Baker Canyon.
Many biologists believe that amphibians like the Arroyo Toad are nature's best indicator of overall environmental health. According to the USFWS, extensive habitat loss due to agriculture, urbanization, reservoir construction, flood control structures, and roads has wiped out 75% of the Arroyo Toad’s previously occupied habitat in California.
The Orange County Board of Supervisors originally approved the Silverado Canyon Ranch on 69 acres of the Holtz Ranch in August of 2003. The environmental impact report (EIR), prepared by the developer, Las Vegas based CCRC Farms, contained no surveys for the Arroyo Toad, and found no significant impact on the species, saying the probability of its occurrence was “very low,” with “no suitable habitat.” The following month, RCCF challenged the approval in Orange County Superior Court, alleging that the proposed development violated the grading limits set by the Silverado-Modjeska Specific Plan, and that the EIR failed to properly inform the decision makers of the project’s impacts on water quality and the Arroyo Toad in Silverado Creek. Following trial, Judge C. Robert Jameson ruled in June 2004 that the EIR’s treatment of water quality was legally inadequate because it contained no study or data on Silverado Creek’s baseline water quality. In fact, such a study would have revealed that this creek appeared on the state Regional Water Quality Control Board’s list of “impaired water bodies” because of excessive bacteria, salinity, total dissolved solids, and chlorides. The Court also found that the EIR had improperly put off formulating water quality mitigation measures until a future time.
Judge Jameson stopped the project and ordered the County and developer to obtain a study of the site’s actual water quality conditions and circulate it as part of a supplemental EIR. CCRC released the new EIR on April 8, just prior to the April 26 discovery of the Arroyo Toad on the site. State law requires revision and recirculation of an EIR when significant new information, not available when the original EIR was certified, is discovered.
Pre-construction clearing and grading on the site increased the level of sedimentation flowing into Silverado Creek. According to the USFWS, silt eroding into streams can cover and suffocate Arroyo Toad eggs. Proposed development of the site into large equestrian estates, draining directly into Silverado Creek, may also adversely affect the Arroyo Toad. “This significant new information requires that the DSEIR be recirculated in order to evaluate the water quality impacts of the project on the Arroyo Toad and Arroyo Toad habitat and to assess the ability of proposed mitigation measures to protect the Arroyo Toad and Arroyo Toad habitat in Silverado Creek,” wrote RCCF's attorney Edward Grutzmacher in a letter to the County. “Because of the recent findings of Arroyo Toads in Silverado Creek and near the project site, and the suitability of Silverado Creek as Arroyo Toad habitat, the project will also require a habitat conservation plan and the issuance of an ‘incidental take’ permit from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service before any construction may take place on the project site,” said Grutzmacher, citing the federal Endangered Species Act.
“CCRC and the County can no longer claim that the project will not impact this endangered species,” said RCCF secretary/treasurer Ray Chandos. “They should do the right thing and include this important new information in a revised and recirculated EIR.”