Supreme Court hops into endangered frog habitat dispute


The elusive dusky gopher frog - confined not long ago to a single pond in MS - will get its day in court. The case is Weyerhaeuser Co. v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A month later, the Service proposed to protect almost 2,000 acres - and in 2012 it designated more than triple that amount, protecting 6,477 acres.

The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the government in 2016. But the court agreed with the federal agency that those lands are essential because they contain five ephemeral ponds, each within hopping distance of the next.

Apart from the land in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, a little less than 5,000 acres in three counties of MS were also designated as habitat for the frog. The frog, found only in four locations in southern MS, also previously inhabited Louisiana and Alabama.

House Republicans previous year moved to overhaul parts of the Endangered Species Act, a statute that lawmakers from both parties agree needs updating.

If it tries to develop the land, consistent with existing plans and zoning, the designation may well stop the development in its tracks - "which again would not help the frog". And second, "whether an agency decision not to exclude an area from critical habitat because of the economic impact of designation is subject to judicial review?"

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"We're disappointed that the Supreme Court has taken up the case but confident that the justices will ultimately uphold the frog's habitat protections", Center for Biological Diversity attorney Collette Adkins said in a statement.

The Center for Biological Diversity and the Gulf Restoration Network have intervened in the case on behalf of U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

"The frog experts have made clear that habitat in Louisiana needs to be protected if the frog is going to survive", she said, adding that the frog historically lived in Alabama, Louisiana and MS but there are now only about 100 frogs alive in MS due primarily to habitat loss.

Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of the Gulf Restoration Network, also voiced disappointment in the cert grant.

The FWS echoed Adkins' sentiments, stating that the dusky gopher frog's disappearance was primarily due to habitat destruction and adjustment of the frog's longleaf pine upland and breeding habitats. The protection of critical habitat should drive reintroduction of the frog into additional ponds within its former range, thus giving it a real shot at survival and recovery.