The California red-legged frog, star of Mark Twain's, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, is bouncing between good news and bad.

Once the most abundant frog in California, the species declined in the mid-1800s, when Gold Rush miners devoured it for protein. By 1996, the frog had disappeared from over 70 percent of its historic habitat and was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Last year, the Fish and Wildlife Service designated 4.1 million acres in California as critical habitat for the frog (HCN 4/15/02: Habitat protection takes a critical hit). But under pressure from the Home Builders Association of Northern California, the agency cut the critical habitat to 200,000 acres during closed-door negotiations over the Fourth of July holiday. Ironically, this occurred just months before the agency released a recovery plan for the frog.

"This is part of a larger trend, where big industry sues, and the (Bush) administration caves in," says Peter Galvin, a conservation biologist at the Tucson, Ariz.-based Center for Biological Diversity. "The Service has failed to defend the frog and defend itself against industry."

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon initially approved the settlement to eliminate critical habitat, but then temporarily reinstated protection after environmental groups argued that the negotiations were unfair. A new hearing, which included environmental groups, took place in early October in Washington, D.C. The judge's ruling will be released by the end of the month.