Red-legged frog habitat slated for protection

  • HELP WANTED: Beleaguered red-legged frog

    drawing courtesy Earthjustice
  The red-legged frog was once common throughout California, but development has devastated its habitat and reduced the species to three viable breeding populations. Now, the amphibian may get the protection it needs to survive.

On Sept. 8, under pressure from a federal court order, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated 5.4 million acres in California as proposed critical habitat for the frog, made famous by Mark Twain's 1867 story, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County." The area is a mosaic of riparian zones and uplands on public and private land from Northern California south to the Los Angeles region.

Fish and Wildlife biologist Curt McCasland says he expects the final habitat to be significantly less than 5.4 million acres, after a period of public comment and a final study. Because the court order put the agency under time constraints, McCasland says, the designation was only an approximation.

McCasland anticipates resistance from developers, since the designation includes 3.2 million acres of private land. That means building projects that require federal permits would be subject to federal review.

Environmentalists say the announcement marks a preliminary victory for the species.

"It's an important step in getting this frog back on its feet," says Jan Erik Hasselman, an attorney for the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund.

Earthjustice counseled five environmental groups, which sued the government under the Endangered Species Act. They said the red-legged frog had been protected as threatened under the ESA since 1996, but had never had critical habitat designated as required by law.

*Oakley Brooks

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