California Rivers, Streams and Wetlands Under Attack
California developers filed a lawsuit in federal court in Washington, D.C., Tuesday in an attempt to undo critical habitat protections for the threatened California red-legged frog (Ranaaurora draytonii), the amphibian made famous by Mark Twain's story, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County."
The Home Builders Association of Northern California and other development interests filed suit seeking to overturn the March 13,2001, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision to designate 4.1 million acres of critical habitat for the California red-legged frog.
The protected areas include watersheds in 28 counties and many of the remaining freshwater streams and wetlands in the San Francisco Bay Area and along the western rim of the Central Valley. Critical habitat includes some of the last remaining wetlands in California, 90% of which have already been destroyed.
"This lawsuit is a concerted effort by powerful development interests to undo new protections for the streams and wetlands called "home" by Twain's frog," said Bruce Nilles, an attorney for Earthjustice. "Rather than provide for California's housing needs with a balanced approach that protects our natural heritage, the developers are seeking a free pass to
pave over our last remaining open spaces valued by the frog and Californians."
"It is very sad and very ironic to us that the Home Builders Association would take this kind of action. From the standpoint of our beloved frog, this makes them the Home Wreckers Association," said Robert Stack, Ph.D., director of the Calaveras County-based Jumping Frog Research Institute. "Who would even want to buy a home built on top of the wreckage of this famous frog's habitat?"
"We can have a strong economy and new, affordable housing, and still protect our natural heritage," said Craig Thomas, of the Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign, "but we have to find a more balanced approach to developing land. Most Californians understand this may be our last chance to protect the frog and the healthy streams and wetlands it calls home. With the frog currently in the emergency room, we need to protect and restore California's streams and wetlands if the species is ever to recover from the brink of extinction."
The once ubiquitous red-legged frog has already been eliminated from 70 percent of its former range, including the entire floor of the Central Valley and all but a handful of the Sierra Nevada streams it made famous. The designation of critical habitat helps protect a set of ecosystems that has been decimated by past and ongoing human activities. Critical habitat provides important tool to balance development interests with the preservation of the natural area that makes California such an attractive place to live.
"Unfortunately throughout the state 90% of our wetlands have been bulldozed for development, or permanently altered by mining, dam construction or over run by exotic species,"said Peter Galvin of the Center for Biological Diversity. "Against all this modification, the frog doesn't stand a very good chance of finding a peaceful home. That's why it's so important to protect what's left of its essential habitat."
"Humans need healthy wetlands, streams and aquatic ecosystems for clean drinking water, just as the frog needs them for a home. Protecting the frog's habitat protects people in the long run," said Deanna Spooner of Pacific Rivers Council. "This icon of California's heritage deserves full protection of the ESA, not half-measures."
The California Red-Legged Frog is the largest native frog in the western United States. It was once distributed widely in freshwater streams and wetland habitats on the coast from Marin County to Baja California, and inland in the Central Valley and Sierra Nevada from Redding to Bakersfield. Habitat loss and alteration resulting from human activities
as diverse as agricultural conversion, reservoir construction, grazing, and urban development, have combined with the introduction of exotic predators and competitors and over-harvesting (in the early 1900s) to eliminate the frog from 70% of its former range. The red-legged frog has been completely eliminated from the floor of the Central Valley and is
restricted to but a few isolated drainages in the Sierra Nevada, and the Coast Ranges, including the Bay Area. The dominant current threat to the remaining frog populations in the Coast Ranges, especially in the Bay Area and Southern California, appears to be habitat alteration resulting from suburban sprawl.
The red-legged frog was listed as threatened on May 31, 1996. 61 Fed Reg. 25813.
Critical habitat was subsequently designated under court order on Mar. 13 2001 following a successful lawsuit brought by Earthjustice 66 Fed. Reg. 14626