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Agency offers new plan to protect red-legged frog

14 April 2004

Anna Davison

Prompted by a legal tussle, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has put out a new proposal for critical habitat designations for the threatened California red-legged fog - the amphibian immortalized by Mark Twain in "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County."

Tuesday's proposed designation - the same area included in a 2001 version - covers about 4 million acres and reaches through 28 California counties. Two-thirds of it is privately owned land.

Parts of Santa Barbara County that are covered include coastal areas from Goleta north, and parts of the Santa Ynez River, Sisquoc River and Ellwood Canyon watersheds. The proposed designation doesn't include Vandenberg Air Force Base because officials say the frog is already adequately protected there.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was forced to take another look at the initial designation in response to a lawsuit filed in 2001 by a coalition of developers, business people and other interest groups. The federal Northern District Court of California threw out most of that designation and ordered the service to work on another and to redo the analysis of economic impacts.

If Fish and Wildlife’s latest proposal is accepted, it would affect landowners only if they seek a federal permit, for example to drain a wetland, build a road, put in a new crop or apply pesticides.

Dennis Oliver, a spokesman for the California Alliance for Jobs, one of the plaintiffs in the 2001 lawsuit, said the latest reworking is "appropriate."

"Activists have really seized control of our endangered species law and are using the laws to control land use rather than protect endangered species." he added.

The red-legged, frog is the largest native frog in the West, growing up to 5 inches long. It was added to the federal list of threatened species in 1996. Like many amphibians around the world, the frog's numbers have declined notably over the past couple of decades. Scientists say amphibians are particularly sensitive to pollution, disease and habitat destruction.

Officials with the Fish and Wildlife Service are asking the public for feedback on the proposal and information on where the frogs are found.

Comments will be accepted until June14. They can be sent to: Field Supervisor, Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife' Service, 2800 Cottage Way, Suite W. 2605, Sacramento, CA 95825; e-mailed to fw1crl@r1.fws.gov; or faxed to 916-414-6712.