- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Mark Twain once said that “all a frog wanted was education,” but environmentalists say the red-legged frog made famous by the humorist writer in “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” also needs 4 million acres of California land to call home.

“Children growing up in California should be able to see the frog made famous by Mark Twain in its native habitat, not just read about it in books,” said Deanna Spooner, conservation director for the Pacific Rivers Council.

“Frogs, just like people, need someplace to live. Opening up their habitat to further development pushes them that much closer to extinction.”

After five years of reviews and court challenge by the Home Builders Association of Northern California and a coalition of environmental groups, federal officials will list only 450,000 acres at a projected cost of $1 million as critical habitat, said Al Donner, spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) Sacramento office.

A lawsuit challenging the decision is likely, says Jeff Miller of the Center for Biological Diversity, who called it “an arbitrary exclusion.”

Last month’s decision highlights the Bush administration’s policy to reduce the acreage of critical habitat for endangered and threatened species required by law — a law House Republicans say is outdated and in need of a legislative overhaul.

“The administration believes that working in partnership with landowners is a much more efficient way to create new habitat, rather than simply drawing a line around the property,” said Hugh Vickery, Department of the Interior spokesman.

Last year, 415 House lawmakers voted to eliminate critical habitat, but the measure languishes in the Senate.

Federal Register notices on any new critical habitat under consideration include blunt FWS language: “In 30 years of implementing the ESA [Endangered Species Act], the service has found that the designation of statutory critical habitat provides little additional protection to most listed species, while consuming significant amounts of conservation resources.

“The service’s present system for designating critical habitat is driven by litigation rather than biology, limits our ability to fully evaluate the science involved, consumes enormous agency resources and imposes huge social and economic costs.”

Ernie Niemi, managing director of ECONorthwest, which conducted its own economic analysis of the frog habitat designation, said the government’s findings were wrong and that only losses, not gains to the economy and environment, were taken into consideration.

“They just threw darts at the wall; it’s hard to tell what they did,” Mr. Niemi said.

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