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Mississippi gopher frog
Hattiesburg American, June 2, 2010

Agency proposes protecting Mississippi gopher frog
By The Associated Press

GULFPORT — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed designating 1,957 acres in south Mississippi as protected critical habitat for the endangered Mississippi gopher frog.

In a proposed rule to be published in the Federal Register for public comment, the service said today that the habitat would be located in parts of Forrest, Harrison, Jackson and Perry counties.

Most of the proposed area is on public land; there are two private sites in Jackson County.

A public comment period will run for 60 days once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register.

In April, the Gulf Restoration Network and the Center for Biological Diversity announced their intention to sue the federal government and the state for failing to protect the fragile habitat that the endangered Mississippi gopher frog calls home.

Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said Wednesday that the federal action would "give the Mississippi gopher frog a chance at survival."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the Mississippi gopher frog "has a very limited historical range in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana," but field surveys in the past few years have found none of the frogs in Alabama or Louisiana.

The wildlife service said Glen's Pond in Harrison County, located on U.S. Forest Service land, was the last known breeding ground for the Mississippi gopher frog in 2001, when the agency listed the frog as a federally endangered species.

The service said it has identified 15 ponds or forested areas as potential habitats for the frog. The sites are in the DeSoto National Forest in Harrison, Forrest and Perry counties, the Ward Bayou Wildlife Management Area in Jackson County and two privately owned sites in Jackson County.

Tadpoles and young frogs were released at one of the privately owned sites from 2004 to 2008.

"In December 2007, Mississippi gopher frogs were heard calling at the site, and one egg mass was discovered," the wildlife service said. "As a result, we consider this site to be currently occupied by the species, bringing the total number of currently occupied sites to four."

Copyright © 2010

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton