SAN FRANCISCO, California, December 19, 2007 (ENS) – Conservation groups filed a lawsuit today in federal district court in San Francisco seeking to overturn a decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reduce protected habitat for the California red-legged frog.The frog, dramatized in Mark Twain’s story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” is a California native once found from the central coast to the Sierra Nevada foothills.
The public interest law firm Earthjustice filed the California red-legged frog suit on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity against Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne and Dale Hall, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service.
At issue is an April 13, 2006 Endangered Species Act rule adopted by the service that reduced the critical habitat for the California red-legged frog from 4.1 million acres to about 450,000 acres.
The suit claims that the service agreed to revise the frog’s critical habitat rule as a result of a “closed-door settlement” between industry and the service that was approved over the objections of a coalition of conservation groups.
The California red-legged frog (Photo courtesy USGS)
The California red-legged frog suit is one of 13 being filed today challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s refusal to properly designate and protect “critical habitat” areas for 13 endangered species in California, Oregon, New Mexico and North Carolina.
Today’s lawsuits challenge the slashing of 4,223,036 acres of critical habitat for the California red-legged frog, arroyo toad, three plants in California and four invertebrates in New Mexico, and the failure to consider critical habitat protection for four additional plants in California, Oregon and North Carolina.
The suits are part of broader effort by the Center to challenge political corruption harming 55 endangered species and over 8.5 million acres of wildlife habitat.
Lawsuits over six other species were filed in November.
The California red-legged frog’s critical habitat rule is one of several dozen species decisions that may have been manipulated by former Interior Department Deputy Assistant Secretary Julie MacDonald, who resigned in disgrace in May 2007.
Both the Inspector General and Government Accountability Office have ongoing investigations in political interference by MacDonald and others in Endangered Species Act decisions.
The lawsuit claims the service’s decision that over 3.5 million acres is not frog “critical habitat” is a “direct result of pressure by the Interior Department, in particular by former Deputy Assistant Secretary Julie MacDonald, to reduce protections for the frog for the benefit of private landowners, the livestock industry, and other special-interest groups, at the expense of the scientific integrity of the final rule.”
“The red-legged frog won’t survive unless we protect its habitat,” said Mike Senatore, senior counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity, “Julie MacDonald’s interference is inexcusable.”
“We’re headed back to court not only to protect Mark Twain’s celebrated jumping frog, but also to protect the scientific integrity of the Endangered Species Program,” said attorney Erin Tobin of Earthjustice.
In its complaint, the Center for Biological Diversity says, “The final critical habitat rule excludes over 200,000 acres based on an economic analysis that does not meaningfully consider nor analyze all of the likely benefits of designating such areas as critical habitat for the frog.”
Benefits of designating critical habitat ignored by the Service in the final rule include protection of ecosystem functions such as water filtration, erosion control, and climate and air quality control.
“Although members of the public repeatedly informed the Service of this error in public comments on the proposed rule, the Service did not consider many such benefits because the Service found that it was too ‘difficult’ to estimate their value,” the conservation group complains.
“The California red-legged frog, once common across the state, appears to have been the victim of politics,” said Tobin. “We urge the Department of the Interior to promptly revise the frog’s critical habitat and fix the mess created by Julie MacDonald and possibly others.”
The California red-legged frog, Rana aurora draytonii, is the largest native frog in the western United States, ranging in size from 1.5 to five inches long, but it is smaller than the introduced bullfrog, one of its biggest predators.
From Environment News Service