Fish and Wildlife Service proposes critical habitat for Mississippi gopher frog
In today’s Federal Register, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes critical habitat designation for the Mississippi gopher frog, the only federally listed frog in the continental southeastern United States.
The proposed critical habitat designation is for 1,957 acres within Forrest, Harrison, Jackson, and Perry counties in southern Mississippi. A total of 1,391 acres of the proposed critical habitat designation are in federal ownership, 96 acres are in state ownership, and 470 acres are in private ownership.
The complete critical habitat proposal for the Mississippi gopher frog can be obtained by visiting the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov at Docket Number FWS-R4-ES-2010-0024. A copy can also be obtained by contacting the Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 6578 Dogwood View Parkway, Suite A, Jackson, Mississippi 39213 or calling 601-321-1121.
Commenting on the Proposal
For the proposal, 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. Comments from the public should be submitted by August 2, 2010. The Endangered Species Act provides for a public hearing on this proposal, if requested. Requests for a public hearing should be submitted by July 19, 2010.
Comments on the proposal or requests for a public hearing must be received by using one of the following methods: 1). Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments; or 2). U.S. 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, Suite 222; Arlington, VA 22203. We will not accept email or faxes.
All comments will be posted on http://www.regulations.gov. This generally means that we will post any personal information you provide us. A final decision on the designation of critical habitat for the Mississippi gopher frog will consider all comments and information received by the August 2, 2010 deadline.
Background on the Frog
The Service listed the Mississippi gopher frog as endangered in 2001. It continues to be threatened by habitat loss and events such as droughts. The gopher frog once ranged throughout Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama. Now, the species is only found in southern Mississippi. Its four remaining populations are very small, with the largest population being about 100 adults. All four Mississippi gopher frog populations are included within the proposed critical habitat designation. Some areas currently unoccupied by the species are included within the designation as well because they provide suitable habitat and allow for population expansion.
Also in today’s Federal Register, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concurs with recent genetic research indicating that the Mississippi gopher frog is its own species, Rana sevosa. This is a change from 2001 when the Service listed the Mississippi gopher frog as a population segment of the gopher frog under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The Service will revise its List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants to reflect this change from a subspecies to a distinct species. The common name for Rana sevosa is the dusky gopher frog. However, the Service will continue to use the common name, Mississippi gopher frog, to describe the listed species in order to avoid confusion.
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 composed mostly of longleaf pines. The species breeds in small, seasonally flooded wetlands.
The Service prepared the proposed rule due to 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 Secretary of Interior failed to timely designate critical habitat for the Mississippi gopher frog. 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.
Critical habitat is a term defined in the ESA. 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 that 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 ESA, it is already protected wherever it occurs. Federal agencies are required to consult on any action taken that might affect the species, whether or not critical habitat is designated.
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