Skip to main content

Protecting the Red Legged Frog's Critical Habitat

The California red legged frog.

The California red legged frog.

Photo courtesy of KQED Quest

What's at Stake

The lawsuit sought not only to protect Mark Twain's celebrated jumping frog, but also the scientific integrity of the Endangered Species program.


In the spring of 2006, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service bowed to industry and developer pressure by issuing a rule that greatly diminished the critical habitat of the endangered California red legged frog. Critical habitat is defined to include those areas that are "essential to the conservation of the species." Also, by law, critical habitat determinations must be made based upon the "best scientific and commercial data available."

Earthjustice discovered through Freedom of Information Act requests that political pressure by officials in the D.C. office, including former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior Julie MacDonald, rose to the level of improper influence compromising the scientific integrity of the final critical habitat rule. This pressure caused field office scientists to ignore important scientific documents, such as the frog's Recovery Plan, and to exclude from the final rule significant areas of habitat that the FWS had previously determined were "essential to the conservation" of the frog. The result was a final critical habitat rule that did not provide for the recovery of the frog, nor was it based on the best available science.

In September 2008, the FWS published a proposed rule that would significantly increase the critical habitat for the red-legged frog, and Earthjustice settled the lawsuit.

Case Updates

February 8, 2011 | Blog Post

Trail Report: Pinnacles National Monument

A few hours south of San Francisco—and just east of the valley that was often Steinbeck's stage—are the reddened remains of an ancient volcano known as the Neenach.

January 10, 2006 | Legal Document

Red-Legged Frog Decision

Approves a sweetheart deal entered into between home builders and the USFWS, from which conservationists were excluded, which tries to redo a study of the critical habitat designation's economic impacts and nullifies all but 200,000 acres of critical habitat.