[Federal Register: May 23, 2000 (Volume 65, Number 100)]
[Proposed Rules]               
[Page 33283-33291]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

RIN 1018-AF90

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Proposed Rule To 
List the Mississippi Gopher Frog Distinct Population Segment of Dusky 
Gopher Frog as Endangered

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Proposed rule.


SUMMARY: We, the Fish and Wildlife Service, propose to list the 
Mississippi gopher frog distinct population segment of the dusky gopher 
frog (Rana capito sevosa) as an endangered species under the authority 
of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). Historically, 
the Mississippi gopher frog occurred in at least nine counties or 
parishes across Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, ranging from east 
of the Mississippi River in Louisiana to the Mobile River delta in 
Alabama. Today, it is known from only one site in Harrison County, 
Mississippi. This last surviving population is threatened by habitat 
destruction and degradation from a proposed housing development on 
property within 200 meters (m) (656 feet (ft)) of its only remaining 
breeding pond; the construction and expansion of two highways in the 
vicinity of the pond; and a proposed reservoir. These actions pose 
threats to the terrestrial habitat of adult frogs and their ability to 
offset mortality rates with reproduction and recruitment. This proposed 
rule, if made final, would extend the Act's protection to the 
Mississippi gopher frog distinct population segment.

DATES: Send your comments to reach us on or before July 24, 2000. We 
will not consider comments received after the above date in making our 
decision on the proposed rule. We must receive requests for public 
hearings by July 7, 2000.

ADDRESSES: Send comments and materials concerning this proposal to the 
Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Mississippi Field 
Office, 6578 Dogwood View Parkway, Jackson, Mississippi 39213. Comments 
and materials received will be available for public inspection, by 
appointment, during normal business hours at the above address.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ms. Linda LaClaire at the above 
address, telephone 601/965-4900, or facsimile 601/965-4340.



    The gopher frog (Rana capito) is a member of the large cosmopolitan 
family, Ranidae (``true frogs''). The genus Rana is the only North 
American representative of this family. We define the Mississippi 
gopher frog distinct population segment 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. Goin and Netting (1940) 
described frogs from this geographic range as a distinct species of 
gopher frog, Rana sevosa. The taxonomic history of gopher frogs is 
complex (summary in Altig and Lohoefener 1983). Subsequent to the 
original description by Goin and Netting, frogs of this population 
segment were considered subspecies of Rana capito (gopher frog) (R. c. 
sevosa) (Wright and Wright 1942) and later subspecies of R. areolata 
(crayfish frog) (R. a. sevosa) (Viosca 1949). In 1991, Collins 
challenged the taxonomic arrangement that lumped crayfish frogs and 
gopher frogs together as one species and recommended their separation 
based on biogeographical grounds. This arrangement was followed by 
Conant and Collins (1991), who again recognized the name R. c. sevosa. 
Wright and Wright (1942) first used the common name of ``dusky gopher 
frog'' for this subspecies, and it has been used in subsequent 
publications. The range of the subspecies, as presently described, also 
extends to the Gulf Coast of western Florida and adjacent Alabama 
(Conant and Collins 1991).
    Young (1997) conducted the first comprehensive biochemical analysis 
of the relationships between gopher frogs and crayfish frogs and among 
subspecies of gopher frogs. She used allozyme electrophoresis (an assay 
(examination) of gene products) to examine allelic (genetic) 
differences between and among populations. Allozyme data have been used 
extensively to investigate the evolution of genetic relationships among 
related species. Young found strong support for the species 
designations R. areolata (crayfish frogs) and R. capito (gopher frogs). 
Gopher and crayfish frogs varied from each other by fixed differences 
at four loci (specific locations on a gene). In addition, she found 
that populations of gopher frogs from Harrison County, Mississippi, 
were genetically distinct from other populations of gopher frogs east 
of the Mobile River drainage in Alabama. Young analyzed tissue from 
gopher frogs across the range of the species including populations in 
Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina. Although 
Mississippi gopher frogs showed a fixed difference at only a single 
locus (site for a specific gene on a chromosome) from all other gopher 
frogs, this difference is considered by many taxonomists to be 
significant enough to warrant elevation of the frog to its own species 
(B. Crother, Southern Louisiana University, pers. comm. 1999). No other 
specific taxonomic divisions could be determined among the remaining 
populations of gopher frogs sampled. Since Harrison County is within 
the range of the original specimens used to describe R. sevosa, Young 
recommended the resurrection of R. sevosa as a distinct species. A 
manuscript summarizing her findings has been submitted for publication 
(Young and Crother, unpublished manuscript). If her recommendations are 
accepted by the herpetological scientific community, we will reflect 
this taxonomic change in subsequent publications in the Federal 
Register. Researchers have recommended ``Mississippi gopher frog'' as 
the common name for this population segment to distinguish it from the 
other populations of gopher frogs further east (R. Seigel, pers. comm. 
    The Mississippi gopher frog has a stubby appearance due to its 
short, plump body, comparatively large head, and relatively short legs 
(Conant and Collins 1991). The coloration of its back is dark and 
varies in individual frogs. It ranges from an almost uniform black to a 
pattern of reddish brown or dark brown spots on a ground color of gray 
or brown (Goin and Netting 1940). Warts densely cover the back. The 
belly is thickly covered with dark spots and dusky markings from chin 
to mid-body (Goin and Netting 1940, Conant and Collins 1991). Males are 
distinguished from females by their smaller size, enlarged thumbs, and 
paired vocal sacs on either side of the throat (Godley 1992). Richter 
and Seigel (1998b) reported a mean snout-vent length of 67.7 
millimeters (mm) (2.7 inches (in)) for males and 79.3 mm (3.2 in) for 
females in the extant population. Mississippi gopher frog tadpoles are 
presently indistinguishable from those of leopard frogs and other 
gopher frogs

[[Page 33284]]

(R. Altig, Mississippi State University, pers. comm. 1999).
    Mississippi gopher frog habitat includes both upland sandy habitats 
historically forested with longleaf pine and isolated temporary wetland 
breeding sites embedded within the forested landscape. Frequent fires 
are necessary to maintain the open canopy and ground cover vegetation 
of their aquatic and terrestrial habitat.
    Adult and subadult Mississippi gopher frogs spend the majority of 
their lives underground. They use active and abandoned gopher tortoise 
(Gopherus polyphemus) burrows, abandoned mammal burrows, and holes in 
and under old stumps as refugia (Allen 1932; LaClaire, pers. obs. 1996; 
Richter and Seigel 1998a). Gopher tortoise burrows likely represent 
preferred underground habitats. In Florida, Godley (1992) reported that 
the closely related Florida gopher frog was known only from sites that 
supported gopher tortoises. The remaining Mississippi gopher frog 
population occurs in an area presently lacking gopher tortoises, most 
likely as a result of habitat degradation. An abandoned tortoise burrow 
occurs approximately 0.8 kilometers (km) (0.5 miles (mi)) from the 
breeding pond, and an active burrow was found within 1.6 km (1 mi) of 
the site in 1992 (T. Mann, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, 
Fisheries and Parks, pers. comm. 1999).
    Gopher frog breeding sites are isolated ponds (not connected to any 
other water body) that dry completely on a cyclic basis. Substantial 
winter rains are needed to ensure that ponds are filled sufficiently to 
allow hatching, development, and metamorphosis of larvae. The timing 
and frequency of rainfall are critical to the successful reproduction 
and recruitment of Mississippi gopher frogs.
    Today, only a single breeding pond is known for the Mississippi 
gopher frog. It is located in Harrison County, Mississippi. Adult frogs 
move to this wetland breeding site during heavy rain events, usually 
from January to late March (Richter and Seigel 1998b). The breeding 
pond is approximately 1.5 hectares (3.8 acres) when filled. It attains 
a maximum depth of 1.1 m (3.6 ft). The pond is hard-bottomed, has an 
open canopy, and contains emergent and submergent vegetation. Female 
Mississippi gopher frogs attach their eggs to the rigid vertical stems 
of emergent vegetation (Young 1997, Richter and Seigel 1998a, 1998b). 
The pond typically dries in early to mid-summer, but on occasion has 
remained wet until early fall (G. Johnson, U.S. Forest Service, pers. 
comm. 1993; Young 1997; Richter and Seigel 1998b). As many as 20 
amphibian species (18 frogs and 2 salamanders) are known to breed at 
the site (G. Johnson, pers. comm. 1993). Bailey (1990) and Palis (1998) 
found similar habitat attributes in breeding ponds of the closely 
related gopher frogs in Alabama and Florida.
    Adult Mississippi gopher frogs leave the pond site after breeding 
during major rainfall events. Adults of both sexes use specific 
migratory corridors when exiting the breeding pond (Richter and Seigel 
1998b). Movements away from the pond are slightly east of due north. 
Young (1997) and Richter and Seigel (1998a) tracked a total of 13 frogs 
using radio transmitters. The farthest movement recorded was 268 m (879 
ft) by a frog tracked for 88 days from its exit of the breeding site. 
In Florida, gopher frogs have been found 2 km (1.2 mi) from their 
breeding sites (Carr 1940, Franz et al. 1988). It is unclear if the 
distances recorded for the Mississippi gopher frogs were typical; the 
tracking periods represented only a fraction of their yearly life 
cycle. Movements corresponded with major rain events. However, dry 
conditions prevailed during most of the two study periods. In fact, the 
frogs in Richter and Seigel's study moved during only one 24-hour 
period, which was associated with a weather event. Another compounding 
factor was the clearcut timber harvest in 1994 of a site adjacent to 
the breeding pond. Migratory corridors and available habitat were 
eliminated by the forestry operation. In 1996, two frogs were tracked 
to the property line delineating the clearcut, and they did not move 
from their burrows during the remainder of the study (Richter and 
Seigel 1997).
    Amphibians need to maintain moist skin for respiration (breathing) 
and osmoregulation (controlling the amounts of water and salts in their 
bodies) (Duellman and Trueb 1986). Since they disperse from their 
aquatic breeding sites to the uplands where they live as adults, 
desiccation (drying out) can be a limiting factor in their movements. 
Thus, it is important that areas connecting their wetland and 
terrestrial habitats are protected in order to provide cover and 
appropriate moisture regimes during their migration.
    It is likely that, given appropriate habitat, Mississippi gopher 
frogs are long-lived. The longevity record for a captive close 
relative, the Carolina gopher frog (R. capito capito), is 9 years, 1 
month (Snider and Bowler 1992). However, overall low rates of recapture 
at the extant breeding pond suggest low adult survival in the 
Mississippi gopher frog population (Richter and Seigel 1998b).
    Historical records for the Mississippi gopher frog exist for two or 
possibly three parishes in Louisiana, six counties in Mississippi, and 
one county in Alabama. Researchers conducting numerous surveys have 
been unable to document the continuing existence of the Mississippi 
gopher frog in Louisiana (Seigel and Doody 1992, Thomas 1996) or in 
Alabama (Bailey 1992, 1994). The last observation of a gopher frog in 
Louisiana was in 1967 (Gary Lester, Louisiana Natural Heritage Program, 
pers. comm. 1991). In Alabama, it was last seen in 1922 (Bailey 1994).
    Historical records for the Mississippi gopher frog are limited. We 
have compiled 35 historical records--1 in Alabama, 14 in Louisiana, and 
20 in Mississippi. Historical records are defined as those localities 
where gopher frogs were found prior to 1990. No new localities for the 
frog have been found since 1988. Localities are sites identified from 
specimens captured or heard calling during sampling of potential 
breeding sites or by surveying highway crossings when individuals were 
on their way to or from breeding sites. Of the 35 historical records, 
24 provided data that could be used to approximate the location of the 
original site.
    Habitat degradation is the primary factor in the loss of gopher 
frog populations in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Bailey (1994) 
visited the historical Alabama locality in 1993. The habitat had been 
developed as a residential area, and was no longer suitable for the 
gopher frog. Seigel and Doody (1992) and Thomas (1996) surveyed 
historical sites in Louisiana and searched for other potential sites 
that might be occupied by gopher frogs. They also found that longleaf 
pine forests had been severely degraded. The historical breeding and 
upland habitats had changed as a result of urbanization and/or 
conversion of forest to pine plantation. For example, they found three 
historical breeding sites that had been extensively altered. One had 
been made a permanent pond in a residential backyard. Two other ponds 
had been extensively altered by bedding, clearing, and nutrient loading 
during conversion of the surrounding habitat to pine plantation. Both 
Seigel and Doody (1992) and Thomas (1996) were unsuccessful at finding 
any Mississippi gopher frogs in Louisiana.
    Crawford (1988) surveyed 42 ponds in 6 Mississippi counties in 1987 
and 1988. He attempted to relocate all of the State's historical 
localities for the gopher frog. He found that habitat in the vicinity 
of historical localities had been altered by conversion of natural 
forest to agriculture and pine plantations.

[[Page 33285]]

Urbanization was a factor in the loss of at least three breeding ponds. 
The character of relocated historical breeding ponds had been changed 
from open-canopy, temporary ponds with clear water and hard bottoms to 
muddy, more permanent ponds with a closed canopy (G. Johnson, pers. 
comm. 1999). No appropriate habitat for the Mississippi gopher frog 
could be found near any of the localities (G. Johnson, pers. comm. 
1999). Crawford (1988) also used aerial maps to identify potential 
breeding sites. In many cases, ponds identified on these maps no longer 
existed due to land use changes. However, he was able to verify the 
presence of the species at four new sites in Harrison County, 
Mississippi. At three of these four sites, only one individual was 
observed. Kuss (1988) surveyed 60 ponds in southern Mississippi for the 
flatwoods salamander (Ambystoma cingulatum). He did not encounter any 
gopher frogs during the surveys. Subsequent to these studies, surveys 
have documented the continued existence of only one population in 
Mississippi. This population breeds at a pond located in the DeSoto 
National Forest in Harrison County. Surveyors working in Mississippi 
during the 1990s have been unable to find the species at any other 
sites (R. Jones, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and 
Parks, pers. comm. 1998; G. Johnson, pers. comm. 1999). Although Allen 
(1932) found gopher frogs to be common in the coastal counties of 
Mississippi earlier in the century, today R. Seigel (pers. comm. 1998) 
estimates the extant Mississippi gopher frog population to be only 100 
adult frogs at a single site.
    The extensive habitat alteration found during surveys of historical 
gopher frog localities in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi resulted 
from the loss of virtually all of the natural longleaf pine forest in 
these States. Presettlement longleaf pine forests were the dominant 
forest type of the southeastern coastal plain. Today, less than 2 
percent of these forests remain (Ware et al. 1993). Second growth 
longleaf pine forests in the vicinity of historical Mississippi gopher 
frog breeding sites were clearcut extensively in the mid-1950s and then 
again in the 1980s and 1990s. Longleaf pine forest habitat was replaced 
with dense pine plantations, agriculture, and urban areas. Habitat 
degradation has occurred as a result of alterations in the soil horizon 
(layering of different soil types), forest litter, herbaceous 
community, and occurrence of downed trees and stumps that Mississippi 
gopher frogs use as refugia. Fire suppression has further degraded the 
habitat. The hydrology of many isolated temporary wetlands, required as 
breeding sites for the Mississippi gopher frog, has been altered. In 
addition, these same factors have resulted in the decline of the gopher 
tortoise, whose burrows are most likely the preferred habitat for adult 
gopher frogs. As a result of these habitat changes, both the uplands 
and the pond basins previously occupied by the Mississippi gopher frog 
have become unsuitable.

Distinct Vertebrate Population Segment

    Recent genetic analysis suggested reevaluation of the taxonomy of 
gopher frogs (Rana capito) is necessary (Young 1997). The analysis of 
the relationships between gopher frogs and crayfish frogs, and among 
subspecies of gopher frogs, failed to support the current taxonomy for 
gopher frogs at the subspecific level. However, the research did 
support taxonomic distinction of the Mississippi gopher frog from all 
other gopher frogs east of the Mobile River delta, including other 
dusky gopher frogs. Young and Crother (unpublished manuscript) 
concluded that the Mississippi gopher frog population segment should be 
resurrected to species status.
    The biological evidence supports recognition of the Mississippi 
gopher frog as a distinct vertebrate population segment for purposes of 
listing, as defined in our February 7, 1996, Policy Regarding the 
Recognition of Distinct Vertebrate Population Segments (61 FR 4722). 
The definition of ``species'' in section 3(16) of the Act includes 
``any distinct population segment of any species of vertebrate fish or 
wildlife which interbreeds when mature.'' For a population to be listed 
under the Act as a distinct vertebrate population segment, three 
elements are considered--(1) the discreteness of the population segment 
in relation to the remainder of the species to which it belongs; (2) 
the significance of the population segment to the species to which it 
belongs; and (3) the population segment's conservation status in 
relation to the Act's standards for listing (i.e., is the population 
segment endangered or threatened?).
    Habitat of the lower Gulf Coastal Plain from the Mississippi River 
to the Mobile River delta contains the westernmost subpopulation of 
dusky gopher frogs. This population segment is discrete because it is 
geographically segregated from other gopher frogs by a large gap 
(approximately 200 km (125 mi)) of unoccupied habitat and the Mobile 
River delta. Consequently, this subpopulation does not mix with other 
dusky gopher frogs.
    Young (1997) presented evidence that the Mississippi gopher frog 
distinct population segment is biologically and ecologically 
significant due to genetic characteristics different from the species 
as a whole (see discussion in Background section). The habitat occupied 
by the Mississippi gopher frog is disjunct from habitat occupied by 
other populations of the dusky gopher frog. No other populations of 
gopher frogs remain in Louisiana, Mississippi, or Alabama west of the 
Mobile River drainage. As a result, loss of the Mississippi gopher frog 
population segment would result in a substantial modification of the 
species' range.

Previous Federal Action

    In our December 30, 1982, Notice of Review, we designated the dusky 
gopher frog (designation Rana areolata sevosa) as a category 2 
candidate and solicited status information (47 FR 58454). Category 2 
candidates were those taxa for which we had information indicating that 
proposing to list as endangered or threatened was possibly appropriate, 
but for which sufficient data on biological vulnerability and threats 
were not currently available to support a proposed rule. Category 1 
taxa were those taxa for which we had sufficient information on 
biological vulnerability and threats on file to support issuance of 
proposed listing rules. In our September 18, 1985 (50 FR 37958), and 
January 6, 1989 (54 FR 554), Notices of Review, we retained the dusky 
gopher frog in category 2. We identified the dusky gopher frog as a 
category 1 candidate species in our November 21, 1991 (56 FR 58804), 
and November 15, 1994 (59 FR 58982), Notices of Review. Beginning with 
our February 28, 1996, Notice of Review (61 FR 235), we discontinued 
the designation of multiple categories of candidates, and we now 
consider only taxa that meet the definition of former category 1 taxa 
as candidates for listing. We also removed Rana areolata sevosa from 
candidate status based on the need for additional information to 
support a listing proposal. We have recently completed an analysis of 
newly available information from current studies and determined that 
listing the Mississippi gopher frog distinct population segment of the 
dusky gopher frog is warranted. We elevated the Mississippi gopher frog 
to candidate status in our October 25, 1999, Notice of Review (64 FR 
    The processing of this proposed rule conforms with our Listing 
Priority Guidance published in the Federal Register on October 22, 1999 
(64 FR 57114). The guidance clarifies the order

[[Page 33286]]

in which we will process rulemakings. Highest priority is processing 
emergency listing rules for any species determined to face a 
significant and imminent risk to its well-being (Priority 1). Second 
priority (Priority 2) is processing final determinations on proposed 
additions to the lists of endangered and threatened wildlife and 
plants. Third priority is processing new proposals to add species to 
the lists. The processing of administrative petition findings 
(petitions filed under section 4 of the Act) is the fourth priority. 
The processing of critical habitat determinations (prudency and 
determinability decisions) and proposed or final designations of 
critical habitat will no longer be subject to prioritization under the 
Listing Priority Guidance. This proposed rule is a Priority 3 action 
and is being completed in accordance with the current Listing Priority 

Summary of Factors Affecting the Species

    Section 4 of the Act and regulations (50 CFR part 424) issued to 
implement the listing provisions of the Act set forth the procedures 
for adding species to the Federal lists. We may determine a species to 
be an endangered or threatened species due to one or more of the five 
factors described in section 4(a)(1). These factors and their 
application to the Mississippi gopher frog distinct population segment 
(Rana capito sevosa) are as follows:

A. The Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment 
of Its Habitat or Range

    The range of the Mississippi gopher frog has been reduced as a 
result of habitat destruction and modification (see ``Background'' 
section). Historically, the Mississippi gopher frog occurred in at 
least nine counties or parishes in the States of Alabama, Mississippi, 
and Louisiana. Today, it is known from only one site in Harrison 
County, Mississippi.
    The Mississippi Gulf Coast has experienced a recent increase in 
residential development. The land 200 m (656 ft) immediately north of 
the only known Mississippi gopher frog breeding site is slated for 
development, including a 20,000-unit retirement community, a sewage 
treatment plant, and several golf courses (L. Lewis, Brown and 
Mitchell, Inc., pers. comm. 1999). The sewage treatment plant and one 
golf course are currently planned immediately north of the gopher frog 
pond. Richter and Seigel (1998b) reported that the majority of gopher 
frogs leaving the breeding pond moved in the general direction of the 
development site. Two frogs, tracked using transmitters, were observed 
at the fence line delineating the DeSoto National Forest property 
boundary from the lands currently slated for development (Richter and 
Seigel 1998a). It seems likely that Mississippi gopher frogs occupy, or 
in the very recent past have occupied, this site. Residential 
development of the site would likely destroy its suitability for the 
    Due to the close proximity of this development to the Mississippi 
gopher frog pond, a number of indirect impacts are possible. The most 
severe is the potential alteration of hydrology (physical factors that 
influence the movement of water into and out of a wetland) in the local 
region. The breeding pond of the Mississippi gopher frog must maintain 
its isolation and cycle of filling and drying, or it will no longer be 
suitable habitat. Wetland dredging and filling will be required in 
order to site houses and build the golf course and sewage treatment 
plant. The consequences of these proposed hydrological alterations 
cannot be estimated without further study. However, the only known 
breeding pond for the Mississippi gopher frog would undoubtedly be 
affected in some way (W. Oakley, U.S. Geological Survey, pers. comm. 
    A number of scenarios are possible due to the proximity of a 
proposed regional sewage treatment plant within 1.6 km (1 mi) of the 
Mississippi gopher frog pond. If sewage lagoons are used, it is 
possible they could overflow and flood gopher frog habitat. Such 
conditions of high water periodically result from the tropical storms 
that occur along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Another potential effect 
is the lowering or raising of the groundwater table. Changes in the 
water table will alter the hydroperiod of the Mississippi gopher frog 
breeding pond and reduce its habitat suitability.
    A dam has been proposed for the Biloxi River within 1.6 km (1 mi) 
of the Mississippi gopher frog pond. The reservoir plan involves a dam 
on the Biloxi River that would flood approximately 567 hectares (1,400 
acres), primarily within the boundaries of the DeSoto National Forest 
(Sun Herald, Gulfport, Mississippi, May 4, 1999). The impoundment 
created by this dam would likely alter the temporary nature of the 
breeding site and flood occupied upland habitat used by adult frogs 
and/or potentially unoccupied upland habitat.
    The highway expansion, both ongoing and planned, in the vicinity of 
the existing Mississippi gopher frog pond will fragment the available 
longleaf pine habitat (see Factor E). Urbanization will expand along 
these highway corridors and further reduce available habitat for the 
frog. Highway construction may also alter the existing hydrology of the 
area through creation of drainage ditches, filling of wetlands, and 
    The remaining breeding pond for the Mississippi gopher frog is 
located in the DeSoto National Forest. Silviculture, including timber 
sales with associated clearcutting, is currently the primary activity 
in this area. Inappropriate timber management could alter the 
suitability of the Mississippi gopher frog's remaining habitat (see 
``Background'' section). In 1994, habitat on private land 200 m (656 
ft) north of the breeding pond, now slated for residential development, 
was clearcut. The behavior of two Mississippi gopher frogs tracked from 
their breeding site may be indicative of the negative effects of 
clearcutting. The two frogs were followed to a burrow at the boundary 
of the clearcut (Richter and Seigel 1998a). They never left this 
location during the life of the transmitters. The burrow and stump 
holes used by migrating frogs on the clearcut site were likely altered. 
In addition, the site had no overstory and would represent a desert to 
moisture-requiring frogs. Although the effects of the clearcut on the 
population are unknown, it appears likely that, at least temporarily, 
the habitat was unsuitable for the frogs.
    Historical gopher frog breeding sites have been degraded by roads 
that pass through or are adjacent to ponds. Erosion of unpaved roads 
adjacent to breeding sites may result in an influx of sediment from 
surrounding uplands during rainstorms. The hydroperiod (period during 
which a wetland holds water) at the Mississippi gopher frog breeding 
site has been negatively affected by a poorly maintained logging road 
that runs within 20 m (66 ft) of the pond (R. Seigel, pers. comm. 
    The open canopy and flat, unforested bottom of the Mississippi 
gopher frog breeding pond represent an alluring site for dumping 
unwanted trash and riding off-road vehicles (ORV). Many temporary ponds 
throughout the southeast have been degraded as a result of garbage 
dumping (LaClaire, pers. obs. 1994). ORVs can cause direct mortality of 
gopher frog tadpoles and adults (J. Jensen, Georgia Department of 
Natural Resources, pers. comm. 1996) as well as alter the quality of a 
breeding site. ORVs alter the contours of the pond floor, eliminate 
herbaceous vegetation, and can alter the hydrology of the site 
(LaClaire, pers. obs. 1995). Loss of herbaceous vegetation caused by 
ORVs could also discourage gopher frog

[[Page 33287]]

reproduction, since egg masses are attached to stems of herbaceous 
vegetation (Young 1997; Richter and Seigel 1998a, 1998b). ORV tracks 
have been documented within the Mississippi gopher frog breeding site 
(G. Johnson, pers. comm. 1994). In 1994, an area of the DeSoto National 
Forest within 2.4 km (1.5 mi) of the existing breeding pond was 
temporarily closed due to accumulation of trash, soil erosion and water 
quality degradation caused by ORVs, damage to endangered and sensitive 
plants and animals, and other vandalism (K. Godwin, U.S. Forest 
Service, pers. comm. 1994). ORV use will likely increase in the 
vicinity of the pond if the proposed housing development occurs 
adjacent to the site.

B. Overutilization for Commercial, Recreational, Scientific, or 
Educational Purposes

    Direct take of Mississippi gopher frogs for commercial, 
recreational, scientific, or educational purposes is not currently a 
threat. However, listing the Mississippi gopher frog may make it more 
attractive to collectors through recognition of its rarity. In 
addition, the life history and ecology of Mississippi gopher frogs make 
them vulnerable to overcollecting, as well as vandalism. Only a single 
breeding pond remains for this frog. At predictable times of the year, 
all breeding adults congregate at this one site to breed.

C. Disease or Predation

    Disease is not known to be a factor in the decline of the 
Mississippi gopher frog. However, predation may be a threat. Richter 
and Seigel (1998a) reported that approximately 44 percent of all eggs 
at the existing breeding site were lost in 1997 prior to hatching. An 
undetermined amount of the egg mortality was due to predation by 
caddisfly larvae (Order Trichoptera, Family Phryganeidae) on the egg 
masses. Caddisfly larvae were not observed on egg masses in the 
previous year of the study. The effect on the Mississippi gopher frog 
population is unknown. However, if mortality of this magnitude is a 
result of predation, it is a cause for concern in such an extremely 
small and isolated population.
    Predation from fish probably contributed to the loss of historic 
populations. Temporary ponds altered to form more permanent bodies of 
water and stocked with fish are no longer suitable breeding sites. Fish 
may have also entered breeding sites through the connection of drainage 
ditches and firebreaks to pond basins. The Mississippi gopher frog is 
adapted to temporary wetlands, and its larvae cannot survive the heavy 
predation of bass and sunfish commonly used to stock ponds. One 
historical location in Louisiana was destroyed in part because it has 
become a permanent pond with fish (Thomas 1996). In Mississippi, a 
calling male was discovered in 1987 at a site that has since been 
converted to a fish pond (T. Mann, pers. comm. 1998). No gopher frogs 
have been reported subsequently at this site, which is no longer 
considered suitable breeding habitat.

D. The Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms

    Louisiana has no protective legislation for the Mississippi gopher 
frog. Alabama protects all gopher frogs as nongame species (J. Woehr, 
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, pers. comm. 
1994). The Mississippi gopher frog is listed as endangered in 
Mississippi (Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks 
1992), and both Mississippi and Alabama provide protection against 
collecting of the species. However, this legislation does nothing to 
alleviate the habitat loss that has caused the decline of the species. 
The only known breeding site for the Mississippi gopher frog is on U.S. 
Forest Service land. As a result, there has been a concerted effort to 
encourage the U.S. Forest Service to manage the site for the frog. 
Although the U.S. Forest Service has an obligation to ensure their land 
management activities protect fish and wildlife (National Forest 
Management Act), forest management is often limited by existing 
funding. Other avenues of funding become available to the U.S. Forest 
Service once a species is federally listed.

E. Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting Its Continued Existence

    Fire is needed to maintain the natural longleaf pine community. 
Ecologists consider fire suppression a primary reason for the 
degradation of the remaining longleaf pine acreage in the southeast 
(Noss 1988, Ware et al. 1993). Fire suppression has reduced the quality 
of the terrestrial and aquatic habitat for the Mississippi gopher frog. 
Canopy closure from fire suppression alters the forest floor vegetation 
and threatens the open, herbaceous character typical of gopher frog 
breeding ponds (Kirkman 1995, LaClaire 1995). In addition, fire causes 
the release of nutrients bound in plant material. This release of 
nutrients results in a flush of primary productivity that is important 
to the herbivorous gopher frog tadpoles. Fire suppression has probably 
negatively impacted all of the historical Mississippi gopher frog 
sites. At this time, fire is the only known management tool that will 
maintain the existing breeding pond as suitable habitat.
    Between 1991 and 1998, the U.S. Forest Service conducted periodic 
growing-season burns of the forest compartment surrounding the 
Mississippi gopher frog breeding pond. These burns improved habitat 
conditions, but their frequency and extent have been insufficient. For 
example, the interior of the breeding site has been burned only once 
since 1991. This frequency of burning is too low to prevent woody 
encroachment and, therefore, too low to enhance herbaceous growth. 
Residential development and road construction in the vicinity of the 
breeding pond will create increased concerns about, and likely reduce 
the use of, fire as a management tool.
    Habitat fragmentation of the longleaf pine ecosystem, resulting 
from habitat conversion, threatens the survival of the single remaining 
Mississippi gopher frog population. Studies have shown that the loss of 
small, fragmented populations is common, and recolonization is critical 
for their regional survival (Fahrig and Merriam 1994, Burkey 1995). As 
patches of available habitat become separated beyond the dispersal 
range of a species, populations are more sensitive to genetic, 
demographic, and environmental variability and may be unable to recover 
(Gilpin 1987, Sjogren 1991, Blaustein et al. 1994). This scenario 
describes threats to the Mississippi gopher frog. Five historical 
Mississippi gopher frog localities exist within a 19.2-km (12-mi) 
radius of the remaining site. Highways have fragmented this area and 
contributed to habitat degradation. The most recent records of frogs at 
these locales was in the late 1980s. The planned construction of 
highways within 5 km (3.1 mi) both to the north and east of the 
existing Mississippi gopher frog pond will further isolate the 
remaining population from the two potentially restorable historical 
breeding sites in the DeSoto National Forest. The Biloxi River and 
additional residential development bound the habitat to the west and 
    Low reproductive potential may also present a threat to the 
Mississippi gopher frog's continued existence. Studies at the 
Mississippi breeding site suggest that female Mississippi gopher frogs 
may not breed until 2 to 3 years of age and may breed only in alternate 
years and/or have only a single lifetime

[[Page 33288]]

breeding event (Richter and Seigel 1998b). In addition, survival of 
juvenile frogs is thought to be extremely low (Richter and Seigel 
    Annual variability in rainfall influences how frequently and how 
long a pond is appropriate breeding habitat. Reliance on specific 
weather conditions results in unpredictable breeding events and reduces 
the likelihood that recruitment will occur every year. No larvae 
survived to metamorphosis in 3 out of 6 years of the reproductive study 
of the extant Mississippi gopher frog population (summarized in Richter 
and Seigel 1998b). In addition, study results indicate that only 1 year 
out of 6 resulted in the explosive numbers (2,488) of juveniles typical 
of temporary pond breeding amphibians.
    The Mississippi gopher frog population is highly susceptible to 
genetic isolation, inbreeding, and random demographic events as a 
result of having only one known breeding site. Long-lasting droughts or 
frequent floods may negatively affect the population. Although these 
are natural processes, other threats, such as habitat fragmentation, 
habitat degradation, and low reproductive potential, may cause the 
population to decline to the point that it cannot recover.
    Pesticides and herbicides pose a threat to amphibians such as the 
Mississippi gopher frog, because their permeable eggs and skin readily 
absorb substances from the surrounding aquatic or terrestrial 
environment (Duellman and Trueb 1986). Aquatic frog larvae are likely 
more vulnerable than adults to chemical changes in their environment. 
Negative effects of commonly used pesticides and herbicides on 
amphibian larvae include delayed metamorphosis, paralysis, reduced 
growth rates, and mortality (Bishop 1992, Berrill and Bertram 1997, 
Bridges 1999). Adult gopher frogs are predaceous and could be affected 
by pesticides accumulated in their invertebrate prey. If a golf course 
is built in the drainage area of the Mississippi gopher frog breeding 
pond, as proposed, the herbicides and pesticides used to maintain it 
would pose a potential threat to the population. In addition, runoff 
from chemically maintained yards and roads in the proposed residential 
development may contribute toxins that could threaten the frog. 
Herbicides may also alter the density and species composition of 
vegetation surrounding a breeding site and reduce the number of 
potential sites for egg deposition, larval development, or shelter for 
migrating frogs.
    We have carefully assessed the best scientific and commercial 
information available regarding the past, present, and future threats 
faced by the Mississippi gopher frog distinct population segment in 
determining to propose this rule. Based on this evaluation, the 
preferred action is to list the Mississippi gopher frog distinct 
population segment as endangered. The Act defines an endangered species 
as one that is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant 
portion of its range. A threatened species is one that is likely to 
become an endangered species in the foreseeable future throughout all 
or a significant portion of its range. As discussed under Factor A, in 
spite of extensive surveys throughout the known range of the 
Mississippi gopher frog, only one population is known to exist. 
Further, residential development, new and expanding highways, increased 
fire suppression, and a proposed reservoir pose threats to the 
remaining habitat of adult gopher frogs. For these reasons, we find 
that the Mississippi gopher frog distinct population segment is in 
danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its 
range and, therefore, endangered status is appropriate.

Critical Habitat

    Critical habitat is defined in section 3 of the Act as: (I) The 
specific areas within the geographical area occupied by a species, at 
the time it is listed in accordance with the Act, on which are found 
those physical or biological features (I) essential to the conservation 
of the species and (II) that may require special management 
considerations or protection; and (ii) specific areas outside the 
geographical area occupied by a species at the time it is listed, upon 
a determination that such areas are essential for the conservation of 
the species. ``Conservation'' means the use of all methods and 
procedures needed to bring the species to the point at which listing 
under the Act is no longer necessary.
    Section 4(a)(3) of the Act, as amended, and implementing 
regulations (50 CFR 424.12) require that, to the maximum extent prudent 
and determinable, we designate critical habitat at the time the species 
is determined to be endangered or threatened. Our regulations (50 CFR 
424.12(a)(1)) state that designation of critical habitat is not prudent 
when one or both of the following situations exist--(I) The species is 
threatened by taking or other activity and the identification of 
critical habitat can be expected to increase the degree of threat to 
the species or (ii) such designation of critical habitat would not be 
beneficial to the species. We find that designation of critical habitat 
is prudent for the Mississippi gopher frog.
    Critical habitat designation, by definition, directly affects only 
Federal agency actions through consultation under section 7(a)(2) of 
the Act. Section 7(a)(2) requires Federal agencies to ensure that 
activities they authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to 
jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species or destroy or 
adversely modify its critical habitat.
    Section 4(a)(3) of the Act, as amended, and implementing 
regulations (50 CFR 424.12) require that, to the maximum extent prudent 
and determinable, we designate critical habitat at the time the species 
is determined to be endangered or threatened. Our regulations (50 CFR 
424.12(a)(1)) state that designation of critical habitat is not prudent 
when one or both of the following situations exist--(1) The species is 
threatened by taking or other human activity, and identification of 
critical habitat can be expected to increase the degree of threat to 
the species, or (2) such designation of critical habitat would not be 
beneficial to the species.
    The Final Listing Priority Guidance for FY 2000 (64 FR 57114) 
states, ``The processing of critical habitat determinations (prudency 
and determinability decisions) and proposed or final designations of 
critical habitat will no longer be subject to prioritization under the 
Listing Priority Guidance. Critical habitat determinations, which were 
previously included in final listing rules published in the Federal 
Register, may now be processed separately, in which case stand-alone 
critical habitat determinations will be published as notices in the 
Federal Register. We will undertake critical habitat determinations and 
designations during FY 2000 as allowed by our funding allocation for 
that year.'' As explained in detail in the Listing Priority Guidance, 
our listing budget is currently insufficient to allow us to immediately 
complete all of the listing actions required by the Act.
    We propose that critical habitat is prudent for the Mississippi 
gopher frog. In the last few years, a series of court decisions have 
overturned Service determinations regarding a variety of species that 
designation of critical habitat would not be prudent (e.g., Natural 
Resources Defense Council v. U.S. Department of the Interior 113 F. 3d 
1121 (9th Cir. 1997); Conservation Council for Hawaii v. Babbitt, 2 F. 
Supp. 2d 1280 (D. Hawaii 1998)). Based on the standards applied in 
those judicial opinions, we believe that designation of

[[Page 33289]]

critical habitat would be prudent for the Mississippi gopher frog.
    Due to the fact that the Mississippi gopher frog is only known from 
one site, it is vulnerable to unrestricted collection, vandalism, or 
other disturbance. We are concerned that these threats might be 
exacerbated by the publication of critical habitat maps and further 
dissemination of locational information. However, at this time we do 
not have specific evidence for the Mississippi gopher frog of taking, 
vandalism, collection, or trade of this species or any similarly 
situated species. Consequently, consistent with applicable regulations 
(50 CFR 424.12(a)(1)(I)) and recent case law, we do not expect that the 
identification of critical habitat will further increase the degree of 
threat of taking or other human activity above that of the listing of 
the species.
    In the absence of a finding that critical habitat would increase 
threats to a species, if there are any benefits to critical habitat 
designation, then a prudent finding is warranted. In the case of this 
species, there may be some benefits to designation of critical habitat. 
The primary regulatory effect of critical habitat is the section 7 
requirement that Federal agencies refrain from taking any action that 
destroys or adversely modifies critical habitat. While a critical 
habitat designation for habitat currently occupied by this species 
would not be likely to change the section 7 consultation outcome 
because an action that destroys or adversely modifies such critical 
habitat would also be likely to result in jeopardy to the species, 
there may be instances where section 7 consultation would be triggered 
only if critical habitat is designated. Examples could include 
unoccupied habitat or occupied habitat that may become unoccupied in 
the future. There may also be some educational or informational 
benefits to designating critical habitat. Therefore, we propose that 
critical habitat is prudent for the Mississippi gopher frog. However, 
the deferral of the critical habitat designation for the Mississippi 
gopher frog will allow us to concentrate our limited resources on 
higher priority critical habitat and other listing actions, while 
allowing us to put in place protections needed for the conservation of 
the Mississippi gopher frog without further delay. We anticipate in FY 
2000 and beyond giving higher priority to critical habitat designation, 
including designations deferred pursuant to the Listing Priority 
Guidance, such as the designation for this species, than we have in 
recent fiscal years.
    We plan to employ a priority system for deciding which outstanding 
critical habitat designations should be addressed first. We will focus 
our efforts on those designations that will provide the most 
conservation benefit, taking into consideration the efficacy of 
critical habitat designation in addressing the threats to the species, 
and the magnitude and immediacy of those threats. We will make the 
final critical habitat determination with the final listing 
determination for the Mississippi gopher frog. If this final critical 
habitat determination is that critical habitat is prudent, we will 
develop a proposal to designate critical habitat for the Mississippi 
gopher frog as soon as feasible, considering our workload priorities.

Available Conservation Measures

    Conservation measures provided to species listed as endangered or 
threatened under the Act include recognition, recovery actions, 
requirements for Federal protection, and prohibitions against certain 
activities. Recognition through listing results in public awareness and 
conservation actions by Federal, State, and local agencies, private 
organizations, and individuals. The Act provides for possible land 
acquisition and cooperation with the States and requires that recovery 
actions be carried out for all listed species. The protection required 
of Federal agencies and the prohibitions against taking and harm are 
discussed, in part, below.
    Section 7(a) of the Act, as amended, requires Federal agencies to 
evaluate their actions with respect to any species that is listed as 
endangered or threatened and with respect to its critical habitat, if 
any is designated. Regulations implementing this interagency 
cooperation provision of the Act are codified at 50 CFR part 402. 
Section 7(a)(4) requires Federal agencies to confer informally with us 
on any action that is likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a 
species proposed for listing or result in destruction or adverse 
modification of proposed critical habitat. If a species is subsequently 
listed, section 7(a)(2) requires Federal agencies to ensure that 
activities they authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to 
jeopardize the continued existence of the species or destroy or 
adversely modify its critical habitat. If a Federal action may affect a 
listed species or its critical habitat, the responsible Federal agency 
must enter into formal consultation with us.
    The Mississippi gopher frog occurs in the DeSoto National Forest, 
Federal land administered by the U.S. Forest Service. The U.S. Forest 
Service will be required to evaluate whether their activities have the 
potential to adversely impact the Mississippi gopher frog. Their 
activities that could adversely modify suitable habitat include, but 
are not limited to, forest management and road construction. Other 
Federal agencies that may be involved in authorizing, funding, or 
carrying out activities that may affect the Mississippi gopher frog 
include the Army Corps of Engineers, due to their regulation of 
discharges of dredged or fill material into isolated wetlands under 
section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA), nationwide permit 26 and dam 
construction in navigable waters under section 10 of the Rivers and 
Harbors Act and 404 of the CWA; the Federal Energy Regulatory 
Commission, due to their oversight of gas pipeline and powerline 
rights-of-way; and the Federal Highway Administration, if Federal funds 
are involved in road construction.
    We have been working with the U.S. Forest Service since 1988 to 
protect the last remaining population of the Mississippi gopher frog. 
We have advised the U.S. Forest Service on protection and management 
needs for this species. We have supported research on the ecology and 
life history of this population by projects funded through our 
cooperative agreement with the State of Mississippi under section 6 of 
the Act. In addition, we have collaborated with the U.S. Forest Service 
on the rehabilitation of a nearby pond as a future breeding site for 
the frog.
    The Act and its implementing regulations found at 50 CFR 17.21 set 
forth a series of general prohibitions and exceptions that apply to all 
endangered wildlife. These prohibitions, in part, make it illegal for 
any person subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to take 
(includes harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, 
capture, or collect; or to attempt any of these), import, export, ship 
in interstate commerce in the course of commercial activity, or sell or 
offer for sale in interstate or foreign commerce any endangered 
wildlife species. It is also illegal to possess, sell, deliver, carry, 
transport, or ship any such wildlife that has been taken illegally. 
Certain exceptions apply to our agents and agents of State conservation 
    It is our policy, published in the Federal Register on July 1, 1994 
(59 FR 34272), to identify, to the maximum extent practicable at the 
time a species is listed, those activities that are or are not likely 
to constitute a violation of section 9 of the Act. The intent of this 
policy is to increase public awareness of

[[Page 33290]]

the effects of the listing on proposed and ongoing activities within a 
species' range.
    We believe the following activities are unlikely to result in a 
violation of section 9 for the Mississippi gopher frog:
    (1) Possession of legally acquired Mississippi gopher frogs;
    (2) Lawful hunting activities;
    (3) Lawful burning of habitat where the Mississippi gopher frog is 
known to occur, including winter burning;
    (4) Federally approved projects that involve activities such as 
discharge of fill material, draining, ditching, bedding, diversion or 
alteration of surface or ground water flow into or out of a wetland 
(i.e., due to roads, impoundments, discharge pipes, etc.), when the 
activity is conducted in accordance with any reasonable and prudent 
measures given by us in accordance with section 7 of the Act; and,
    (5) Conversion of longleaf pine habitat where the Mississippi 
gopher frog does not occur.
    We believe the following activities could potentially result in 
``take'' of the Mississippi gopher frog:
    (1) Unauthorized killing, collecting, handling, or harassing of 
individual Mississippi gopher frogs; this would include unauthorized 
use of off-road vehicles in the wetland basins of known breeding sites 
of the species.
    (2) Possessing, selling, transporting, or shipping illegally taken 
Mississippi gopher frogs;
    (3) Unauthorized destruction or alteration of the hydrology of the 
frog's wetland breeding sites. These actions would include off-site 
activities that alter the regional hydrology by changing the natural 
recharge to the below-ground aquifer, altering the groundwater table, 
or altering flows in stream drainages, which would impact the 
appropriate temporal fluctuations and/or water-holding capacity at 
existing breeding sites. Unauthorized actions that could alter the 
hydrology of breeding sites would include discharge of fill material, 
draining, ditching, bedding, clear-cutting within the wetland, 
diversion or alteration of surface or ground water flow into or out of 
a wetland (i.e., due to roads, impoundments, discharge pipes, etc.), 
and operation of any vehicles within the wetland; and,
    (4) Discharge or dumping of toxic chemicals, silt, or other 
pollutants (i.e., sewage, oil, pesticides, and gasoline) into isolated 
wetlands or upland habitats supporting the species. This includes any 
application of terrestrial or aquatic pesticide that results in the 
mortality of adult frogs or tadpoles, regardless if the pesticide was 
applied in accordance with the labeling instructions. This includes 
drift from aerial applications and runoff from surface applications.
    We will review other activities not identified above on a case-by-
case basis to determine whether they may be likely to result in a 
violation of section 9 of the Act. We do not consider these lists to be 
exhaustive and provide them as information to the public. You should 
direct questions regarding whether specific activities may constitute a 
violation of section 9 to the Field Supervisor of our Mississippi Field 
Office (see ADDRESSES section).
    We may issue permits to carry out otherwise prohibited activities 
involving endangered wildlife species under certain circumstances. 
Regulations governing permits are at 50 CFR 17.22. For endangered 
species, you may obtain permits for scientific purposes, to enhance the 
propagation or survival of the species, and/or for incidental take in 
connection with otherwise lawful activities. You may request copies of 
the regulations regarding listed wildlife from, and address questions 
about prohibitions and permits to, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 
1875 Century Blvd., Suite 200, Atlanta, Georgia 30345, or telephone 
404/679-7313; facsimile 404/679-7081.

Public Comments Solicited

    We intend that any final action resulting from this proposal will 
be as accurate and as effective as possible. Therefore, we request 
comments or suggestions from the public, other concerned governmental 
agencies, the scientific community, industry, or any other interested 
party concerning this proposed rule. Our practice is to make comments, 
including names and home addresses of respondents, available for public 
review during regular business hours. Individual respondents may 
request that we withhold their home address from the rulemaking record, 
which we will honor to the extent allowable by law. There also may be 
circumstances in which we would withhold from the rulemaking record a 
respondent's identity, as allowable by law. If you wish us to withhold 
your name and/or address, you must state this prominently at the 
beginning of your comment. However, we will not consider anonymous 
comments. We will make all submissions from organizations or 
businesses, and from individuals identifying themselves as 
representatives or officials of organizations or businesses, available 
for public inspection in their entirety. We particularly seek comments 
    (1) Biological, commercial trade, or other relevant data concerning 
any threat (or lack thereof) to this distinct population segment;
    (2) The location of any additional populations of this distinct 
population segment;
    (3) The reasons why any habitat should or should not be determined 
to be critical habitat as provided by section 4 of the Act;
    (4) Additional information concerning the range, distribution, and 
size of this distinct population segment; and
    (5) Current or planned activities in the subject area and their 
possible impacts on this distinct population segment.
    We will take into consideration your comments and any additional 
information received on this distinct population segment when making a 
final determination regarding this proposal. We will also submit the 
available scientific data and information to appropriate, independent 
specialists for review. We will summarize the opinions of these 
reviewers in the final decision document. The final determination may 
differ from this proposal based upon the information we receive.
    You may request a public hearing on this proposal. Your request for 
a hearing must be made in writing and filed within 45 days of the date 
of publication of this proposal in the Federal Register. Address your 
request to the Field Supervisor (see ADDRESSES section).

National Environmental Policy Act

    We have determined that we do not need to prepare an Environmental 
Assessment, as defined under the authority of the National 
Environmental Policy Act of 1969, in connection with regulations 
adopted pursuant to section 4(a) of the Act. We published a notice 
outlining our reasons for this determination in the Federal Register on 
October 25, 1983 (48 FR 49244).

Paperwork Reduction Act

    This rule does not contain any new collections of information other 
than those already approved under the Paperwork Reduction Act, 44 
U.S.C. 3501 et seq., and assigned Office of Management and Budget 
clearance 1018-0094. An agency may not conduct or sponsor, and a person 
is not required to respond to, a collection of information unless it 
displays a currently valid control number. For additional information 
concerning permit and associated requirements for endangered species, 
see 50 CFR 17.22.

[[Page 33291]]

References Cited

    You may request a list of all references cited in this document, as 
well as others, from the Mississippi Field Office (see ADDRESSES 
    Author. The primary author of this proposed rule is Linda V. 
LaClaire, Mississippi Field Office (see ADDRESSES section) (601/965-

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17

    Endangered and threatened species, Exports, Imports, Reporting and 
recordkeeping requirements, Transportation.

Regulation Promulgation

    Accordingly, we propose to amend part 17, subchapter B of chapter 
I, title 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations, as follows:


    1. The authority citation for part 17 continues to read as follows:

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1361-1407; 16 U.S.C. 1531-1544; 16 U.S.C. 
4201-4245; Pub. L. 99-625, 100 Stat. 3500, unless otherwise noted.

    2. In Sec. 17.11(h) add the following, in alphabetical order under 
AMPHIBIANS, to the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife:

Sec. 17.11  Endangered and threatened wildlife.

* * * * *
    (h) * * *

                        Species                                                    Vertebrate
--------------------------------------------------------                        population where                                  Critical     Special
                                                            Historic range       endangered or         Status      When listed    habitat       rules
           Common name                Scientific name                              threatened

                       *                *                 *                 *                *                 *                 *
Frog, Mississippi gopher.........  Rana capito sevosa..  U.S.A.(AL, FL, LA,   Wherever found west  E               ...........           NA           NA
                                                          MS).                 of Mobile and
                                                                               Tombigbee Rivers
                                                                               in AL, MS, and LA.

                       *                *                 *                 *                *                 *                 *

    Dated: April 6, 2000.
Jamie Rappaport Clark,
Director, Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 00-12796 Filed 5-22-00; 8:45 am]