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For Immediate Release, March 8, 2012

Contact:  Collette Adkins Giese, Center for Biological Diversity, (651) 955-3821
Cynthia Sarthou, Gulf Restoration Network, (504) 525-1528 x 202
Gerald Blessey, Columbus Communities, (228) 806-4755

Conservation Groups, Developer Sign Agreement to Protect Endangered Mississippi Gopher Frog

GULFPORT, Miss.— The Center for Biological Diversity, Gulf Restoration Network and Columbus Communities, the developer of a planned community called “Tradition” in Harrison County, Miss., signed an agreement today to protect habitat for the highly endangered Mississippi gopher frog. The memorandum of understanding outlines steps the parties will take to facilitate a land exchange between the developer and U.S. Forest Service to protect one of the gopher frog’s last remaining breeding ponds.

“Today’s agreement gives hope to the Mississippi gopher frog,” said Collette Adkins Giese, a Center attorney who works to protect endangered amphibians and reptiles. “The Mississippi gopher frog regularly breeds in only one pond on Earth, and we’re concerned that development in the area of that last pond will drive the species extinct unless we stop it. The proposed land exchange is a common-sense solution.”

Columbus Communities is in the process of developing “Tradition,” a 4,800-acre planned community in Harrison County, Miss., adjacent to the gopher frog’s only viable breeding pond. Today’s agreement reflects a commitment by the developer and two conservation groups to work together to facilitate an exchange of ecologically important private land surrounding the breeding pond for an isolated parcel of the DeSoto National Forest north of the existing Tradition development.

“Good environmental stewardship is a core value of the Tradition community,” said Gerald Blessey, an attorney and spokesman for Tradition. “The land exchange proposal is a win-win strategy, allowing us to protect essential habitat for an endangered species while moving forward with our planned community.”

Once prevalent throughout Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, the Mississippi gopher frog (Rana sevosa) is nearly extinct. 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 four small Mississippi ponds. The Fish and Wildlife Service listed the gopher frog as a federally endangered species in 2001, and according to recent surveys, there may be fewer than 100 adult frogs of the species remaining.

“Without habitat protection and restoration, the Mississippi gopher frog will be lost forever,” said Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of the Gulf Restoration Network. “The proposed land exchange will provide a critical buffer between the pond and Tradition and help ensure that prescribed burns needed for the frog’s habitat can move forward.”

The Mississippi gopher frog is a warty, dark-colored frog with ridges on the sides of its back; it lives in upland, sandy habitats historically forested with longleaf pine and isolated, temporary wetland breeding sites imbedded within this forested landscape. Gopher frogs spend most of their lives underground, in burrows created by gopher tortoises — hence their name. In the winter they migrate to temporary ponds to breed, and after breeding, they migrate back to the forested, longleaf-pine uplands.

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