After years of delay and under federal court order, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today issued a rule to protect the habitat of the threatened California red-legged frog. The rule covers over four million acres of the frog's delicate habitat throughout California and will help ensure the recovery and eventual delisting of the frog. The Service's action came in response to a successful federal court lawsuit filed by several regional conservation groups.
The California red-legged frog is the largest native frog in the western United States, and once could be found throughout much of California. Mark Twain launched his literary career and secured a place in history for the red-legged frog in his short story "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County." Today, the California red-legged frog can be found only in isolated pockets along the coast, with a few scattered survivors in the Sierra Nevada.
"Overall, we're very pleased that the FWS has taken this action on behalf of our celebrated jumping frog," said Dr. Robert Stack, Executive Director of the Calaveras County-based Jumping Frog Research Institute, the lead plaintiff in the case. "However, we're disappointed that no critical habitat was designated in Calaveras County, the county for which this frog has become synonymous. But even without critical habitat, we hope to move ahead with reintroduction on publicly-owned lands, and we've received offers from many private landowners who want to provide a home for this literary icon." Stack noted that his organization's work in Calaveras County would not be significantly affected by the absence of critical habitat.
Deanna Spooner of the Pacific Rivers Council, another plaintiff in the lawsuit, said, "We're disappointed that the Service omitted meaningful protection for the frog's habitat in the Sierra Nevada range, where the frog has been virtually wiped out. Nonetheless, protection of habitat elsewhere will benefit the red-legged frog statewide."
"The decline of California's beloved red-legged frog mirrors the frightening disappearance of amphibians worldwide," said Peter Galvin of the Center for Biological Diversity. "Protecting the fragile habitat of these species is a critical first step in bringing these species back from the brink, so we are pleased with this action to designate habitat for the frog."
Initially, the Service refused to protect the frog's habitat, an action required under the federal Endangered Species Act. The Service's failure prompted the federal court lawsuit, which was decided in December 1999 by Judge William Alsup in San Francisco. Judge Alsup found that the Service was in violation of the law and set a deadline for the Service to finalize a habitat designation.
"Developers may raise a hue and cry over this rule, but the Service used sound science in designating this habitat," said Jan Hasselman, an attorney with Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund representing the conservation groups. "The focus should now shift from the courts to on-the-ground protection for the frog."
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include the Jumping Frog Research Institute, Pacific Rivers Council, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation, and Responsible Consumers of the Monterrey Peninsula. The conservation groups were represented by Jan Hasselman and Kristen Boyles of the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund.
Robert Stack, Jumping Frog Research Institute: (209) 728-2353
Jan Hasselman, Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund: (206) 343-7340
Deanna Spooner, Pacific Rivers Council: (541) 496-0493
Peter Galvin, Center for Biological Diversity: (510) 841-0812
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