News Release
Southeast Region

 

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The Service Seeks Comment on the Revised Proposed Critical Habitat Designation and Associated Draft Economic Analysis for the Mississippi Gopher Frog

September 26, 2011

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A Mississippi gopher frog sitting in grass

Photo: USFWS. Click to download.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking comment on a revised proposal to designate critical habitat for the endangered Mississippi gopher frog.  A total of 7,015 acres have been proposed as critical habitat within one parish in Louisiana and four southern Mississippi counties.

Twelve units (three of which are divided into two subunits each) are proposed as critical habitat including ones in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana; and Forrest, Harrison, Jackson, and Perry counties, Mississippi.  These units include a total of 3,746 acres in federal ownership, 287 acres in state ownership, and 2,983 acres in private ownership.  Occupied habitat and currently unoccupied habitat have been determined to be essential for the conservation of the Mississippi gopher frog and, as such, both are being proposed as critical habitat.

Identifying the habitat essential to the Mississippi gopher frog is an important milestone along the road to recovery. The identification process was greatly benefited by the Service's existing partnerships with the U.S. Forest Service, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks, and private landowners, who are currently working to conserve this unique species and its habitat.  The Service looks forward to continuing and strengthening these partnerships and associated habitat conservation efforts. 

In addition, the proposal recognizes recent peer-reviewed research reclassifying the Mississippi gopher frog as its own species, Rana sevosa. Originally, the Mississippi gopher frog was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act on December 4, 2001 as a distinct population segment (DPS) of the dusky gopher frog (Rana capito). This DPS was defined as those populations of gopher frogs in the lower coastal plain ranging from the Mississippi River in Louisiana to the Mobile River delta of Alabama.  The Service will revise the species' scientific name on the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants.   However, this change will not alter the protections currently in place for the species or add additional regulatory burdens to public or private land-owners.

A draft economic analysis of the revised proposed critical habitat has been completed and is available.  This draft economic analysis estimates that incremental impacts from the designation would range from $102,000 to $37.7 million.  Almost all of the estimated economic impacts center on the newly proposed Louisiana Unit (Unit 1).  The broad range in estimated economic impacts stems from uncertainty about whether any new federally-sponsored projects will be pursued in Unit 1, and the conservation measures the Service may recommend if consultation does occur. 

The Mississippi gopher frog is a darkly colored, moderately sized frog with warts covering its back and dusky spots on its belly.  It lives underground in pine forests that were historically dominated by longleaf pine and breeds in small temporary ponds.

With this revised proposed critical habitat designation, the Service is seeking comments, suggestions, and any additional information on biology, threats, range, distribution, population size, or current or planned activities and their possible impacts on the Mississippi gopher frog or its proposed critical habitat.  A final decision on the designation of critical habitat for the Mississippi gopher frog will consider all comments and information received by November 28, 2011.  

The complete proposal appears in the Federal Register September 27, 2011, and can be obtained by visiting the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov at Docket Number FWS–R4–ES–2010 -0024.   A copy also can be obtained by contacting U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 6578 Dogwood View Parkway, Suite A, Jackson, Mississippi 39213; phone 601-321-1121.

Public comments on the proposed rule and associated economic analysis will be accepted through November 28, 2011.  Comments are accepted in one of two ways: (1) online at http://www.regulations.gov or (2) mail or hand delivery to Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R4–ES–2010 -0024; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042–PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.

Requests for a public hearing must be made in writing by November 14, 2011, to the Arlington, VA, address shown immediately above. 

The Service prepared the proposed rule per a court-approved settlement agreement resulting from a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of Mississippi Public Lands.  The 2008 lawsuit alleged the Service and the Secretary of Interior failed to designate critical habitat for the Mississippi gopher frog in a timely manner.  In the settlement agreement, the Service agreed to re-evaluate the need for critical habitat for the species and if prudent, submit a proposed designation of critical habitat to the Federal Register by May 30, 2010, and a final designation by May 30, 2011.  A proposed rule to designate critical habitat for the Mississippi gopher frog was published on June 3, 2010 (75 FR 31387). 

New information was received during the comment period for the proposed rule which indicated that the amount of critical habitat proposed was insufficient for the conservation of the Mississippi gopher frog.  Based on this new information, the Service requested an extension of the settlement agreement from the plaintiffs in order to conduct an assessment of the new data and to write a revised proposed critical habitat determination.   In a settlement agreement signed May 4, 2011, the court agreed with the Service’s timeline of submission of a revised proposed critical habitat rule to the Federal Register by September 15, 2011, and a final critical habitat rule to the Federal Register by May 30, 2012.

Critical habitat is a term defined in the Endangered Species Act.  It refers to specific geographic areas that are essential to the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and which may require special management considerations or protection. The  designation of critical habitat will help ensure federal agencies and the public are aware of the Mississippi gopher frog’s habitat needs and proper consultation is conducted by federal agencies when required by law.

A critical habitat designation does not set up a preserve or refuge and only applies to situations where federal funding or a federal permit is involved.  It does not allow government or public access to private land.  Federal agencies that undertake, fund or permit activities that may affect critical habitat are required to consult with the Service to ensure such actions do not adversely modify or destroy designated critical habitat.

Since the Mississippi gopher frog is listed under the Act, it is already protected wherever it occurs.  Federal agencies are required to consult on any action taken that might affect the species, whether critical habitat is designated.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov. Connect with our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/usfwssoutheast, follow our tweets at www.twitter.com/usfwssoutheast, watch our YouTube Channel at http://www.youtube.com/usfws and download photos from our Flickr page at http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwssoutheast.

 

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Last updated: September 26, 2011