For Immediate Release
Proposal to Increase Critical Habitat Area for California Red-Legged Frog Four-Fold
1.3 Million Acres May Regain Protection after Investigation into Interior Department Scandals, Citizen Lawsuit
SACRAMENTO - Under scrutiny for political corruption regarding numerous endangered species decisions and facing a lawsuit over improper tampering with protected critical habitat, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to restore significant areas of critical habitat for the California red-legged frog (Rana aurora draytonii). The Service today proposed quadrupling the protected areas by designating approximately 1,804,865 acres of critical habitat for the frog in 28 California counties.
"No endangered species can survive without its habitat intact, and the red-legged frog desperately needs protection of adequate wetlands habitat throughout its former range," said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. "Today's proposal is step toward biological meaningful protections for the frog, but unfortunately numerous other endangered species still have inadequate habitat protections because bureaucrats have illegally slashed millions of acres from proposals by agency scientists."
In November 2007, under pressure brought about by the Center and the media highlighting Interior Department corruption, the Service announced the reversal of six illegal Endangered Species Act decisions, including the California red-legged frog's 2006 critical habitat designation. The Service listed the red-legged frog as a threatened species in 1996. It published a proposed rule to designate 4,138,064 acres of critical habitat in 2004. In response to a lawsuit by developers, the Service revised the proposal in 2005 to only 737,912 acres, and finalized the rule in 2006 with just 450,288 acres - a reduction of 90 percent from the original proposed rule. Today's proposal would increase the critical habitat by approximately 1,354,577 acres.
"Even with the announced increase in acreage, the red-legged frog will receive habitat protection for less than half the areas that agency biologists have identified as essential for the recovery of the species," said Miller. "Under the Bush administration, the Fish and Wildlife Service has consistently slashed the size of proposed critical habitats, so we will be watching the final designation closely."
In 2007 the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups filed lawsuits challenging the Service's refusal to properly designate and protect critical habitat areas for 19 endangered species, including the California red-legged frog. The suits are part of a broader effort by the Center to challenge political corruption harming 55 endangered species and over 8.5 million acres of wildlife habitat. Many of the flawed critical habitat decisions were engineered by Julie MacDonald, the disgraced former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Interior who resigned in 2007 following a scathing report by the Inspector General and investigations into political meddling in scientific decisions by MacDonald and other high level officials in the Department of Interior and the Fish and Wildlife Service.
In a 2007 regional review of endangered species decisions potentially tainted by Macdonald, the California/Nevada Operations office of the Service declared that the red-legged frog critical habitat decision was invalid and should be redone. Director Dale Hall, in a memo to Assistant Secretary of Interior Lynn Scarlett confirmed the frog as one of the decisions "that should be re-evaluated."
The Service cited a biased and controversial economic analysis as justification for cutting the original habitat designation for the frog from 4.1 million acres to 450,000 acres, a reduction of 90 percent. From 2000 to 2003 the Service shrunk the size of proposed critical habitats for species on average by 75 percent. The Service is contemplating excluding areas from the final rule for the frog based on a planned revision of the economic analysis, and may exclude other areas based on supposed conservation measures in place to protect the species.
Critical habitat can be the most effective tool for recovering species beyond listing under the Endangered Species Act. A scientific study published in BioScience in 2005 showed that endangered species with critical habitat are twice as likely to recover as species that do not have critical habitat designated.
Made famous in the Mark Twain story, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, the California red-legged frog has lost more than 70 percent of its historic habitat. Frog populations have declined due to habitat loss from urbanization and introduction of exotic species such as bullfrogs. The frog is believed to be extinct in the Central Valley and is extirpated from 99 percent of its Sierra Nevada range. Currently, the strongest breeding populations remaining are found along the coast from San Mateo to San Luis Obispo counties.
The red-legged frog prefers ponds, marshes and creeks with still water. It requires riparian and upland areas with dense vegetation and open areas for cover, aestivation (summertime hibernation), food and basking. Undisturbed riparian vegetation is also necessary for female frogs to attach their egg masses, which float on the water surface until hatched (5-7 months).
The proposal includes 49 units of critical habitat for the frog in Alameda, Butte, Calaveras, Contra Costa, El Dorado, Kern, Kings, Los Angeles, Marin, Mendocino, Merced, Monterey, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Riverside, San Benito, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano, Sonoma, Stanislaus, Ventura, and Yuba Counties.
Background information on the red-legged frog can be found on the Center for Biological Diversity Web site at: www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/amphibians/California_red-legged_frog/index.html
Background information on political interference with endangered species decisions by Fish and Wildlife Service bureaucrats can be found at: www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/watchfrogging_political_corruption/index.html
Today's Federal Register notice on the revised critical habitat is at: http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2008/pdf/E8-20473.pdf