Judge eliminates frog habitat protections

November 29, 2002
Santa Paula News
By Peggy Kelly Santa Paula TimesMark Twain would join environmentalists in being hopping mad after a federal judge in Washington, D.C., eliminated protection of nearly 4 million acres of habitat in 28 California counties for the imperiled red-legged frog immortalized in Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”The frog, the largest and most athletic variety in the Western United States, has been on the endangered species list since 1996, the result of the loss of more and more of the wetlands where the frogs live that caused the population to plummet.Ventura and Los Angeles counties are two areas where the red-legged frog is found, including portions of the Santa Clara River. Newhall Land & Farming had been told that the frog and its habitat could impact plans for the massive Newhall Ranch development.“This is a serious, serious blow not only to the protection of the California red-legged frog but to aquatic and wetland areas throughout the state,” said Peter Galvin of the Center for Biological Diversity.The Center for Biological Diversity has sued the government successfully over and over again to have critical habitat designated for imperiled species, including the red-legged frog.Galvin said the latest court action is typical of the “trend of industry groups suing to undo environmental protections, and the Bush administration falling all over themselves to reach ‘sweetheart’ deals for settlement.”
The Home Builders Association of Northern California had joined with the California Chambers of Commerce and the Alliance for Jobs in filing a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior to nullify the habitat designation.The Bush administration agreed with developers that the federal government failed to adequately assess the economic impacts of restricting development on large areas of land due to habitat designations.Although consultants for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife had estimated annual losses of $5 million a year due to the red-legged frog habitats, a report prepared for the home builders group pegged the loss due to construction delays or cancellation would average $100 million a year.As part of the settlement, the federal judge ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to redo its economic impact analyses by 2004 and decide by 2005 whether or not the costs outweigh the benefit of protecting the frogs’ habitat.

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