This frog has a recovery plan

By Don Thompson The Associated Press
Friday September 13, 2002

SACRAMENTO — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Thursday it has adopted its recovery plan for the threatened California red-legged frog, the amphibian believed to have inspired Mark Twain’s short story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” 

Plans include protecting and restoring the frog’s habitat; monitoring its population; researching both the frog and threats to the species; and re-establishing populations within its range. 

The plan outlines what state and federal agencies should be doing, and what private landowners and organizations can do voluntarily. However, the service said there is no requirement for specific action or spending. 

The plan seems to track the draft proposal, “which is not a perfect plan but ... in general sets out a reasonable plan for recovery,” said Brendan Cummings, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The devil is in the details.” 

The frog’s range has brought it into conflict with developers, who have fought protections both within the agency and in federal court. 

Once prized as a culinary treat, the population of the largest native frog in the western United States has declined significantly since the 1865 publication of Twain’s short story about a frog named “Dan’l Webster” that could “get over more ground in one straddle than any animal of his breed you ever see.” 

Although the world frog-jumping contest is held each spring at the Calaveras County Fair, bullfrogs now are used because the red-legged frog no longer is found in the area. 

The frog’s historic range has shrunk 70 percent because of habitat loss and the introduction of new predators. The service said it still can be found in 256 streams or drainages, mostly along the north-central coast. But the Center for Biological Diversity says there are now only four places known to have populations greater than 350. 

Developers and conservationists have been fighting over protecting that land since the service designated more than 4 million acres as critical habitat in March 2001. The 4 million acres cover parts of 28 of the state’s 58 counties, from Tehama and Plumas counties in the north to the Mexican border.