GULFPORT, Miss.— The Center for Biological Diversity and Gulf Restoration Network today filed a formal notice of intent to sue the Interior Department for failing to develop a recovery plan for dusky gopher frogs. Although these gopher frogs have been protected under the Endangered Species Act for more than a decade, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has yet to develop a legally required recovery plan to guide management of the species.
“Surveys suggest there may be fewer than 100 adult frogs remaining,” said Collette Adkins Giese, the Center’s attorney dedicated to conserving amphibians and reptiles. “Every day without a recovery plan pushes these frogs closer to extinction.”
Nearly 14 percent (221 species) of all U.S. species protected under the Endangered Species Act lack recovery plans. To date the Obama government has only completed original recovery plans for 67 species, at a rate of just under 17 species per year. In contrast, President Clinton’s administration completed 599 plans, a rate of 75 per year. The first Bush administration completed 150 plans, averaging 38 per year, and the second Bush government completed 147 plans, averaging 18 per year.
Recovery plans are the main tool for identifying actions necessary to save endangered species from extinction and eventually remove their protection under the Endangered Species Act. Research by the Center has found that the status of species with dedicated recovery plans for two or more years is far more likely to be improving than of those without. Timely development and implementation of recovery plans is critical to saving species, because the plans identify all of the necessary actions to save the species, such as research and habitat restoration and protection.
“Habitat destruction is pushing the dusky gopher frog to the brink of extinction. Unless we act now, these frogs could be lost forever,” said Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of the Gulf Restoration Network. “Recovering endangered species is what the Endangered Species Act is all about, so the Service must act quickly to develop and implement a plan that ensures the frog’s recovery.”
The dusky gopher frog (Rana sevosa) is a warty, dark-colored frog with ridges on the sides of its back. It lives in upland, sandy habitats and isolated, temporary wetland breeding sites imbedded within a forested landscape. Gopher frogs spend most of their lives underground, in burrows created by gopher tortoises — hence their name. In the winter they migrate to temporary ponds to breed, and after breeding, they migrate back to the forested uplands.
Once prevalent throughout Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, dusky gopher frogs are nearly extinct. More than 98 percent of long-leaf pine forests — upon which the frog depends — have been destroyed. Fire suppression, drought, pesticides, urban sprawl, highway construction and the decline of gopher tortoises have made this frog so rare it now lives in only a few small Mississippi ponds, with only one pond showing consistent frog reproduction. According to surveys, there may be fewer than 100 adult frogs of the species remaining.
In response to a Center lawsuit, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the gopher frog as a federally endangered species in 2001. Also in response to a lawsuit and advocacy by the Center, the Service in June 2012 designated 6,477 acres of protected critical habitat in both Mississippi and Louisiana for the endangered frogs. The Center and Gulf Restoration Network are currently working with a land developer to protect the gopher frog’s last viable breeding pond through land purchase or exchange.