"The Fish and Wildlife Service's announcement today that almost 5.4 million acres of frog habitat will be designated as "critical habitat" under the Endangered Species Act is a major leap forward for the preservation of the California red-legged frog.
The Service had to be dragged kicking and screaming into court to make them take this step which is required under the ESA. Fortunately, the judge agreed that FWS had no reason not to take this important measure to provide for the recovery of this once-common species.
The bottom line is that the red-legged frog is teetering on the brink of extinction. Without meaningful habitat protection, one of California's most charismatic critters might hop right into history.
While we are relieved that Twain's frog will finally receive some of the protection that the law requires, the agency's rigid and illegal hostility to habitat protection has to stop. Fish and Wildlife's failure to protect habitat for the frog prompted this lawsuit. The agency has adopted a de facto policy of refusing to comply with the law – it's not just a problem for the frog, but for most endangered species.
Critical habitat designation is an important first step on the long road to recovery of the frog. Someone had to speak up for the frog before it croaked."
Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, on behalf of a coalition of conservation groups including the Jumping Frog Research Institute, the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation, filed suit in March 1999 challenging the federal government's failure to identify and protect critical habitat for the threatened California red-legged frog. The suit, Jumping Frog Research Institute et al. v. Babbitt, was filed in federal district court in San Francisco.
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 species. 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 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.
Jan Hasselman, Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund (206) 343-7340
Deanna Spooner, Pacific Rivers Council, 510-548-3887
Peter Galvin, Center for Biological Diversity 510-841-0812
Robert Stack, Jumping Frog Research Institute 209-728-2353
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