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Posted by desiree on November 11, 2002 at 19:21:35:
Red Legged Frog Habitat Protections Overturned
WASHINGTON, DC, November 11, 2002 (ENS) - A federal court has thrown out a critical habitat designation that would have helped protect four million acres in California for the threatened California red-legged frog.
In a decision filed November 6, Judge Richard Leon of the Washington DC circuit court ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to retract and review a March 2001 regulation designating critical habitat for the vanishing frogs. Developers had challenged the land use restrictions that the regulation would have created in parts of 28 of California's 58 counties.
"It's a sad day for California's natural heritage," said Mike Sherwood, the Earthjustice attorney who argued the case on behalf of several environmental organizations. "The builders got exactly what they wanted - carte blanche to continue to destroy the habitat of a species already reduced to living on a small fraction of its historic range."
Critical habitat for this amphibian species, believed to be the basis for Mark Twain's short story about the "Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," was established in 2001 after a series of lengthy public hearings and scientific review. Environmental groups had litigated for years to gain this protection for the red legged frog under the Endangered Species Act.
But three months later, the Home Builders Association of Northern California and other development interests filed suit in Washington, DC to overturn the designation, which protected watersheds in 28 counties and many of the remaining freshwater streams and wetlands in the San Francisco Bay Area and Coast Ranges. The frog's critical habitat also included some of the last remaining wetlands in California, 90 percent of which have already been destroyed.
Judge Leon's ruling approves a deal reached between the Home Builders and the USFWS without input from conservationists which suspends all but 200,000 acres of critical habitat protection for the frog until a new study of the designation's economic impacts is completed.
"As far as our frogs are concerned, the Home Builders may be better described as the home wreckers," said Dr. Robert Stack, of the Jumping Frog Research Institute. "Shouldn't we be seeking to balance the need for human homes with the need to provide the same for our beloved frog?"
Earthjustice intervened in the lawsuit on behalf of several conservation groups including: the Jumping Frog Research Institute, the Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation, the Pacific Rivers Council, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Sierra Club.
"We do not believe this decision reflects the intent of Congress when it passed the Endangered Species Act," said Sherwood, who represented the coalition at the October 2002 hearing before Judge Leon. "The court has decided to put the economic interests of California's developers ahead of protection for a threatened species, which runs counter to the Act. Without critical habitat protection, the frog is at the mercy of developers. One day, the only place left to see this famous frog may be the zoo."
Conservationists plan to press the USFWS to reestablish adequate critical habitat upon completing the new economic analysis. The red legged frog is now found on just 30 percent of its historic range due to loss of habitat and threats from introduced predators.
A copy of the court decision is available at: http://www.earthjustice.org/news/documents/rlfchdecision.pdf