The California red-legged frog is the largest native frog in the western United States, and historically lived on the coast from Marin County to Santa Barbara, throughout the Central Valley, and in lower elevations of the Sierra Nevada. Mark Twain secured the frog's literary reputation in his short story "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County." Today, the frog can be found only in isolated pockets along the coast, while a few scattered survivors hang on in the Sierra.
In 1996, the Fish and Wildlife Service listed the California red-legged frog as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The agency found that activities such as sprawl, logging, chemical spraying, and irrigation have harmed frog habitat in California, and acknowledged that preservation of riparian areas and aquatic habitat was needed for the survival and recovery of the frog. However, the Fish and Wildlife Service has refused to identify and protect critical habitat for the species.
"California's red-legged frogs are part of our historical, literary and cultural heritage," said Dr. Robert Stack, executive director of the Jumping Frog Research Institute, one of the plaintiffs in the suit. "It is critically important that we ensure that there will always be frogs jumping here in Calaveras County, and in other places too. Working together, we have an excellent opportunity to bring this species back from the brink."
The Endangered Species Act protects species at risk in two ways: first, by setting limits on activities that can directly harm the species itself, and second, by protecting specific habitat that is important to the survival and recovery of the species. While the law requires that critical habitat be designated for all species on the endangered species list, less than ten percent of threatened and endangered species have designated critical habitat at this time.
"The Fish and Wildlife Service has completely dropped the ball on critical habitat, not only for the jumping frogs, but nationwide. Since April 1996, the Fish and Wildlife Service has not once designated critical habitat without being forced to by the courts. This policy violates the law and is failing the frog in California," said Heather Weiner, Policy Analyst at Eartjustice Legal Defense Fund in Washington, DC.
Critical habitat designation will protect the frog and the habitat it needs to survive. "The government must protect this frog's aquatic habitat as it makes ecosystem management decisions in the Sierra," added Craig Thomas, president of co-plaintiff Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation. "We need the Fish and Wildlife Service to speak up for the frog before it croaks."