Groups sue to protect famous frogs
The California red-legged frog, a threatened species, is the largest native frog in the western United States
March 26, 1999
Web posted at: 4:30 PM EST
The California red-legged frog, made famous in Mark Twain's short story, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County", is listed as a threatened species but has had no critical habitat protected to ensure its recovery.
As a result, a coalition of environmental groups, led by the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, filed suit Wednesday in a San Francisco, Calif., federal district court against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its failure to comply with the Endangered Species Act.
The California red-legged frog is the largest native frog in the western United States, and historically lived along the California coast from Marin County to Santa Barbara, throughout the Central Valley, and in lower elevations of the Sierra Nevada.
Today, the frog can be found only in isolated pockets along the coast and scattered throughout the Sierra Nevada mountains.
In 1996, the Fish and Wildlife Service listed the 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.
While the law requires that critical habitat be designated for all species on the endangered species list, less than 10 percent of all threatened and endangered species listed under the Endangered Species Act have designated critical habitat.
"The problem is that critical habitat draws a line on a map and that scares people," said Heather Weiner, policy analyst for the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund. "The Fish and Wildlife Service is shying away from political controversy. It is too politically risky to go out and protect habitat."
Lawsuits are the only way species ever get critical habitat, she said. There are currently 50 to 60 lawsuits pending for designated critical habitat.
On March 3, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., reintroduced the Endangered Species Recovery Act of 1999, which would require a species' known habitat to be designated as critical upon listing. The bill has the support of more than 300 environmental groups, including the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund.
"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."
Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved
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