Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, January 22, 2018

Contact:  Collette Adkins, Center for Biological Diversity, (651) 955-3821,
Cynthia Sarthou, Gulf Restoration Network, (504) 525-1528 x 202,

Supreme Court Takes Up Case Challenging Habitat Protections for Endangered Frog in Mississippi, Louisiana

NEW ORLEANS— The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that it will reconsider the appellate court decision that maintained protections for 6,477 acres of critical habitat in Mississippi and Louisiana for endangered dusky gopher frogs. Today’s decision grants Weyerhaeuser’s “petition for certiorari,” in which the timber company asked the Supreme Court to reconsider the June 2016 decision from a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“We’re disappointed the Supreme Court took up the case but confident the justices will ultimately uphold this imperiled frog’s habitat protections,” said Collette Adkins, a Center for Biological Diversity attorney who works to conserve amphibians and reptiles. “The Fish and Wildlife Service followed the unanimous advice of frog experts in deciding to protect essential habitat of these critically endangered animals.”

In deciding to take up the case, the Supreme Court will reconsider a lower-court decision that upheld the 2012 rule establishing the habitat protections, including 1,600 privately owned acres of unoccupied frog habitat in Louisiana. The panel held that the 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 panel agreed with the Service 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 rejected the landowners’ argument that federal government regulation of the private lands was an unconstitutional abuse of power.

“The Supreme Court’s ruling is bad news for these endangered frogs,” said Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of the Gulf Restoration Network. “This lawsuit attempts to gut essential habitat protections for the frog. For too long the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has had to focus its limited resources on defending this decision rather than recovering the frogs and restoring their habitat.”
The Center and Gulf Restoration Network filed a brief in opposition to the petitions for certiorari and will participate as parties in the litigation before the Supreme Court.

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 longleaf 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. The lawsuit and advocacy by the Center also prompted the 2012 critical habitat designation at issue in today’s ruling. Additionally, in response to legal advocacy by the Center and Gulf Restoration Network, the agency released a final recovery plan for the frogs in 2015.

More than 170 acres of critical habitat for the endangered dusky gopher frog were protected from development under a land purchase announced in 2015 by the Center for Biological Diversity, Mississippi Chapter of the Sierra Club, Gulf Restoration Network, the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain and Columbus Communities, the developer of a planned community called “Tradition” in Harrison County, Miss. The land, now owned by the Land Trust, has been shielded from development to help ensure the survival of this rare frog and its longleaf pine habitat.

Dusky gopher frog

Dusky gopher frog courtesy USFWS. This image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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