July 11, 2008
Promise and Peril in Saving Our Frog
By The Oregonian Editorial Board
For about 20 years we've heard about the decline of the Oregon spotted frog. Once widespread throughout the Willamette Valley and Cascades, it was wiped clear from 78 percent of its statewide habitat, and small populations now cling to life mainly in rural Deschutes, Klamath and Lane counties.
The Northwest's apprehension about the constraints of endangered species protection is understandable. The spotted owl's listing set logging into a downward spiral, forever altering Oregon's economy and use of profoundly abundant forests.
But now the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Center for Biological Diversity have shaken hands on a nationwide list of 757 species that the federal government should consider protecting. Sixty of them are from the Pacific Northwest, notably the beleaguered Oregon spotted frog.
Much is at stake. If the deal is approved by a federal judge already leaning toward it, Oregon could see new species protections after a period of letting things go their natural course.
But last week, a House committee approved an appropriations bill, scheduled for floor action July 26, that would bar the fish and wildlife service from protecting any new species or critical habitat. Safari Club International opposes the pact, fearing it would interfere with hunts for critters such as the New England cottontail rabbit.
Politics being what it is, the new agreement could be in for a bumpy ride. But reality being what it is, the world's wild creatures are having the bumpier time of it. Researchers estimate species extinction occurs today at a rate at least 1,000 times faster than it did prehistorically -- the result of human activity.
So what's it in for us in saving the Oregon spotted frog? A fair amount.
No, the frog won't put paychecks in the mail. But it puts clean air in our lungs and food on our table: Like other indicator species, the frog's survival signals the health of large wetland-heavy ecosystems pumping out clean air and water, in some cases to waterways that furnish fish to eat and so many of the birds we treasure. The Oregon coastal coho has enjoyed protection because of the same watershed damage that hammered our spotted frog.
This new pact warrants no new endangered species listings -- it simply means one federal agency will finally decide which critters really should get protection. Choosing sanely and selectively, with clear ecosystem restoration goals in mind, strengthens the broader health of the environment and Oregon's amazingly rich and productive lands and waterways. The wildlife depend on them, as do all Oregonians.
We like hunting fine. But there will be plenty of time to challenge any species nominations the fish and wildlife service might make if the deal is approved. Endangered species hearings go on for months before final designations are made.
Meanwhile, the Senate should strip from any appropriations bill wording that handcuffs our fish and wildlife service. And federal Judge Emmett Sullivan, in Washington, D.C., should approve this fine collaboration between a nongovernment group and a federal agency ready to get back to doing what it does best: deciding which species matter most.