For Immediate Release, August 22, 2014
Contact: Collette Adkins Giese, (651) 955-3821
Ruling Against Big Timber, Federal Court Maintains Habitat Protections for
Endangered Frog in Mississippi and Louisiana
Reduced to a Fraction of Its Former Range, Dusky Gopher Frog Will Now Have Room to Recover
NEW ORLEANS— A federal district court in New Orleans today upheld protections for 6,477 acres of critical habitat in Mississippi and Louisiana for endangered dusky gopher frogs, which likely number fewer than 100 remaining in the world. The court denied three consolidated lawsuits challenging a 2012 rule that established the habitat protections, including 1,600 privately owned acres of unoccupied frog habitat in Louisiana.
|Photo courtesy USFWS. This image is available for media use.
Today’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Martin L.C. Feldman rejected the arguments made by private landowners and the Weyerhaeuser Company, which holds a timber lease on the frog habitat in St. Tammany Parish, La. One of the landowners is represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a radical private-property-rights group.
“The dusky gopher frog is on the brink of extinction and desperately needed today’s good news,” said Collette Adkins Giese, a Center attorney dedicated to conserving amphibians and reptiles. “With maybe 100 of these frogs left in the world, they definitely need room to recover, including in Louisiana.”
The court held that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reasonably concluded that the St. Tammany Parish land is essential for recovery of the frogs, which are now confined to just three sites in southern Mississippi — with only one site regularly showing frog reproduction. Although the frogs no longer live on the St. Tammany Parish lands, the Service found that those lands are essential 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 court also found that the Service properly considered all economic impacts of the designation. Judge Feldman rejected the landowners’ argument that federal government regulation of the private lands was an unconstitutional abuse of power.
“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 Wildlife 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 release 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.
In response to a Center lawsuit, the Fish and Wildlife Service listed the gopher frog as a federally endangered species in 2001. 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.
In June of 2013, the court found that the Center and Gulf Restoration Network had the right to participate as parties in the three consolidated cases to defend the frog’s critical habitat protections that resulted from their original advocacy and legal work. The Center and Gulf Restoration Network are now working with a land developer — not involved in the present lawsuits — to protect the gopher frog’s last viable breeding pond in Mississippi through land purchase or exchange.
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 775,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.