For Immediate Release, June 25, 2013
Contact: Collette Adkins Giese, (651) 955-3821
Endangered Frog From Mississippi, Louisiana Gets Help in Federal Court
Only 100 Dusky Gopher Frogs Likely Remain in World
NEW ORLEANS— A federal district court in New Orleans today allowed the Center for Biological Diversity and Gulf Restoration Network to intervene in a lawsuit brought by a private landowner challenging habitat protections for dusky gopher frogs. The ruling will let the two environmental groups defend a 2012 rule that protects 6,477 acres of critical habitat in Mississippi and Louisiana for these highly endangered animals.
In today’s order the magistrate judge found that the environmental groups have the right to participate in the court case to defend the frog’s critical habitat protections that resulted from their original advocacy and legal work. The federal lawsuit was filed in February in New Orleans by a landowner represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a right-wing private-property group. Other owners of the private lands designated as critical habitat — including the Weyerhaeuser timber company — filed two similar lawsuits.
“We’ll do everything we can to make sure these lawsuits don’t interfere with the survival and recovery of these highly endangered frogs,” said Collette Adkins Giese, a Center attorney dedicated to conserving amphibians and reptiles. “I mean there are maybe 100 of these frogs left in the world. Protection of all their remaining essential habitat is absolutely necessary. Every species we lose forever is a loss that can never be undone.”
The rule that was challenged designates approximately 4,933 acres in Forrest, Harrison, Jackson and Perry counties, Miss., and approximately 1,544 acres in St. Tammany Parish, La. Although the frogs no longer live on the St. Tammany Parish lands, the Service found that those 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 dusky gopher frog now regularly breeds in just one pond on Earth, so protection and restoration of the St. Tammany Parish lands are needed to prevent the frog’s extinction,” said Adkins Giese. “If the owners of the St. Tammany Parish lands were willing to work cooperatively with the Fish and Service, they could take reasonable steps to help save the frog while still keeping their lands in business.”
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 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 of the adult frogs remaining in the world.
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.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 500,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.