For Immediate Release
Collette Adkins Giese, Center for Biological Diversity, (651) 955-3821
Cynthia Sarthou, Gulf Restoration Network, (504) 525-1528 x 202
Endangered Frog From Mississippi, Louisiana Gets Help in Federal Court
NEW ORLEANS - The Center for Biological Diversity and Gulf Restoration Network today moved to intervene in a federal lawsuit brought by a private landowner challenging habitat protections for dusky gopher frogs. The environmental groups seek to defend a 2012 rule that protects 6,477 acres of critical habitat in Mississippi and Louisiana for these highly endangered animals.
The federal lawsuit was filed in February in New Orleans by a landowner represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a right-wing private-property rights group. In the past two months, other owners of the private lands designated as critical habitat — including the Weyerhaeuser timber company — filed two similar lawsuits. The conservation groups filing today also plan to intervene in those cases.
“To save the dusky gopher frog, we need to protect not just the few last places where they survive, but also those places where they could live again, including Louisiana,” said Collette Adkins Giese, the Center’s attorney dedicated to conserving amphibians and reptiles. “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure these lawsuits don’t undermine recovery of these gopher frogs and the intact forest habitats they depend on.”
The challenged rule designates approximately 4,933 acres in Forrest, Harrison, Jackson and Perry counties, Miss., and approximately 1,544 acres in St. Tammany Parish, La. The Service’s designation of critical habitat was the result of a lawsuit and advocacy by the Center.
The Service found that the St. Tammany Parish lands are essential for frog recovery because they contain five ephemeral ponds, each within hopping distance of the next. Dusky gopher frogs lay their eggs only in such temporary ponds — which are free of fish that would devour their eggs — and the St. Tammany Parish land was the frogs’ last known Louisiana breeding ground.
“The Service cannot force landowners to take action to restore habitats, but the agency has programs to provide money and technical help for landowners interested in conservation,” said Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of the Gulf Restoration Network. “Designation of critical habitat does not take lands out of business but provides essential information to landowners and managers, who then can work together to find creative ways to ensure the habitat is protected.”
The dusky gopher frog (Rana sevosa) is a warty, dark-colored frog with ridges on the sides of its back. When picked up, these frogs cover their eyes with their forefeet, possibly to protect their faces until predators taste their bitter, milky skin secretions and drop them. Gopher frogs spend most of their lives underground, in burrows created by gopher tortoises — hence their name.
Once prevalent throughout Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, dusky gopher frogs are nearly extinct. More than 98 percent of long-leaf pine forests — upon which the frog and many other rare animals depend — have been destroyed. Fire suppression, drought, pesticides, urban sprawl, highway construction and the decline of gopher tortoises have made this frog so rare it now lives in only a few small Mississippi ponds, with only one pond showing consistent frog reproduction. According to surveys, there may be fewer than 100 adult frogs of the species remaining.
In response to a Center lawsuit, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the gopher frog as a federally endangered species in 2001. The Center and Gulf Restoration Network are working with a land developer to protect the gopher frog’s last viable breeding pond through land purchase or exchange. In December 2012 the environmental groups filed a formal notice of intent to sue the Interior Department for failing to develop a recovery plan for the frogs. In response the agency has assembled a recovery team and is now working toward plan completion.
For more information about the Center’s campaign to stop the amphibian and reptile extinction crisis, please visit http://BiologicalDiversity.org/herps.
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