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May 23, 2000 Contact:Tom MacKenzie 404-679-7291

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to list the Mississippi gopher frog, an amphibian found only at a single site in Mississippi, as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. 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 is a distinct population segment of the wider-ranging dusky gopher frog. It has genetic characteristics that are different from all other gopher frogs and is isolated from them by 125 miles of unoccupied habitat and the Mobile River delta. The Act allows the Service to list distinct population segments when they are threatened or endangered.

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 1962 or in Alabama since 1922. Today, only 100 adult frogs remain, all located in one pond at the edge of 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 even 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 is located at the edge of Mississippi's DeSoto National Forest, just 200 meters, or 656 feet, from a proposed new 4,600-acre residential development. This development and the anticipated future urban development it will bring to the area, including highways and a proposed reservoir, could damage or destroy 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 come to fruition, 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 proposed 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, both agencies have joined forces to rehabilitate a nearby pond as a future breeding site for this rare frog. The Service, in conjunction with researchers at Southeastern Louisiana University, has developed a strategy to introduce egg masses into this pond and to determine if the eggs can successfully develop into juvenile frogs at the site.

The Endangered Species Acts 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 they are found to be endangered or threatened.

The Service is inviting public comments on its proposal to list the Mississippi gopher frog as an endangered species. Comments may be directed to the Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 6578 Dogwood View Parkway, Jackson, MS, 39213, and will be accepted through July 21, 2000.

Requests for a public hearing must be submitted to the same address by July 6, 2000. For more information, contact the address above or call (601) 965-4900. The Service will fully consider public comments and any additional data that are submitted on the status of the frog before making a decision on listing the species.

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 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses more than 520 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 66 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.

Release #: R00-019

2000 News Releases



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