Election Section

Endangered frog loses 4 million protected acres

Friday July 05, 2002

The Associated Press 


SAN FRANCISCO — The endangered California red-legged frog has lost nearly 4 million acres of protected land after federal wildlife officials agreed to reassess the economic impact on areas that are slated for development. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made the critical habitat designation in March 2001 following a 70 percent decline in habitat and a 90 percent drop in the frog’s population. But the Home Builders Association of Northern California and two other groups challenged the protected acres, and on Tuesday a judge in Washington D.C. approved a deal under which the government will redraw the boundaries by 2005. 

“It didn’t pass the straight-face test — the service saw that and that’s why they agreed so readily to go back and redo the process,” Paul Campos, a lawyer for the San Ramon-based home builders association said Thursday. “We hope they will take their time to do a proper analysis and determine where the red-legged frog actually exists.” 

The acreage had included parts of 28 of the state’s 58 counties, from Tehama and Plumas counties in the north to the Mexican border. About a third of the land is public. 

The home builders association sued last year, saying Fish and Wildlife officials did not prove the entire acreage was vital to the frog’s survival. The groups also argued that the agency had inadequately analyzed the economic effect on areas that are mostly foothill and suburban land ripe for development. 

Environmentalists were upset that they weren’t part of settlement negotiations. The judge signed the consent decree 10 days before a deadline for the groups to submit comments on the settlement. 

“It’s really bad news for the frog,” said Michael Sherwood, an attorney at Earthjustice, the law firm representing the Sierra Club and other groups. 

Under the settlement, two protected areas totaling 199,000 acres will remain intact. They are near Jordan Creek in Tuolumne and Mariposa counties and in the Angeles National Forest near Los Angeles. 

The frog is believed to be the star of Mark Twain’s short story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” 

The U.S. Department of the Interior said the decision to settle was influenced by a recent federal appeals court ruling that eliminated protections for the southwestern willow flycatcher, an endangered bird. The decision came after the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association filed a suit claiming the agency did not properly consider the economic consequences of the designation. 

“Fish and Wildlife agrees that a more robust economic analysis is required,” said Interior Department spokesman Hugh Vickery. “The designation is going to be done. It just means it will be redone with a more stringent analysis.” 

In addition to the red-legged frog and the southwestern willow flycatcher, 19 West Coast species of salmon and steelhead along with the pygmy owl have lost habitat protections in the past year.