Photo Credit: Glen Johnson
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 4, 2001
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that the Mississippi gopher frog has been given protection under the Endangered Species Act as an endangered species. A species is designated as endangered when it is at risk of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.
The Mississippi gopher frog, found only at a single site in Mississippi, is a distinct population segment of the wider-ranging gopher frog. The Mississippi gopher frog has genetic characteristics that are different from all other gopher frogs, and is isolated from other populations by 125 miles of unoccupied habitat and the Mobile River delta. The Endangered Species Act permits listing of "distinct population segments" of vertebrate species if these segments are discrete or separate from the remainder of the species, if they are significant to the species, and if those segments are found to be endangered or threatened.
The Mississippi gopher frog once existed in the longleaf pine forests of the lower coastal plain from east of the Mississippi River in Louisiana to the Mobile River delta in Alabama. It has not been seen in Louisiana since 1967 or in Alabama since 1922. Today, only 100 adult frogs remain, all located at one site in the DeSoto National Forest in Harrison County, Mississippi. Biologists believe loss and degradation of habitat is the primary reason the species has declined.
"This species is a unique part of the natural heritage of the South that could slide into extinction if we do not take action to protect and conserve it," said Sam Hamilton, the Service's regional director for the Southeast. "We are eager to work in partnership with the State of Mississippi, the U.S. Forest Service, and private landowners to recover the gopher frog."
The Mississippi gopher frog is a mid-sized stocky frog that reaches three inches in length. It ranges in color from black to brown to gray and is covered with dark spots and warts. The frog's habitat includes both longleaf pine forest and isolated, temporary breeding sites in forested landscapes. Adult frogs spend most of their lives underground in forests with an open canopy and abundant ground cover. They use active and abandoned gopher tortoise burrows, abandoned mammal burrows and holes in and under old stumps as their underground retreats.
Because of the small number of remaining Mississippi gopher frogs, the species is extremely vulnerable to natural processes such as drought and floods, and to the loss, damage and fragmentation of its habitat. These threats, singly or combined, could bring about the frog's extinction.
The single breeding pond used by the frogs, located in Mississippi's DeSoto National Forest, also occurs in close proximity to a proposed 4,600-acre residential development. This development and the anticipated future urban and commercial development it will bring to the area, including several highways, could damage the frog's only remaining habitat.
Natural fires historically have been essential to maintaining the frog's habitat but now are controlled. Biologists have used prescribed burns to maintain the habitat. If development occurs near the breeding pond, biologists may be limited in the use of this management tool because of concerns about public safety and smoke.
"We are currently working with the developer to avoid potential impacts to the frog," Hamilton said. "As other projects in the vicinity of the breeding pond arise, we will continue in our efforts to prevent conflicts between development and the survival of the frog."
Only those landowners in the immediate vicinity of the breeding pond would be affected by the listing. Recreational land use activities such as hunting and fishing would not be affected.
The Service has been working with the U.S. Forest Service since 1988 to protect the last remaining Mississippi gopher frog population. In addition, the Service, U.S. Forest Service, and Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks have been working together to alter two existing ponds in an as yet unsuccessful attempt to create additional breeding sites for the frog; to transport water overland to the known breeding pond due to the ongoing drought, with the assistance of the Mississippi National Guard; to construct two wells adjacent to the pond to supply water; and, with the assistance of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, to develop a strategy to artificially create new breeding ponds.
Additional information can be obtained by contacting the Serviceís Mississippi Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 6578 Dogwood View Parkway, Jackson, Mississippi 39213 (telephone 601/965-4900). For a copy of the Federal Register notice, please visit the website: http://endangered.fws.gov/frpubs/01fedreg.htm.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 94-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses more than 535 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.
Mississippi Gopher Frog Fact Sheet
NOTE: You can view our releases or subscribe to receive them -- via e-mail -- at the Service's Southeast Regional home page at http://southeast.fws.gov. Our national home page is at: http://news.fws.gov/newsreleases/.
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