Plan Needed to Save the Imperiled Mississippi Gopher Frog

The dusky gopher frog, also known as the Mississippi gopher frog. Photo courtesy of USFWS.The dusky gopher frog, also known as the Mississippi gopher frog, is a highly imperiled species currently known to existing in only four sites in coastal Mississippi. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that less than 100 adult dusky gopher frogs remain.The GRN recently joined the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) in a notice of intent to sue the Interior Department for failing to develop a recovery plan for the dusky gopher frog. This is only the latest effort of GRN and CBD to get the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to take action needed to save this species from extinction.The Mississippi gopher frog was listed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a federally endangered species in 2001, as a result of a suit by the CBD. The Service in June of 2012 designated 6,477 acres of protected critical habitat in both Mississippi and Louisiana for the endangered frogs – again as a result of a suit by CBD. More recently, the Center and Gulf Restoration Network have been working with a land developer to protect an important part of this habitat — the gopher frog’s last viable breeding pond — through land purchase or exchange.Louisiana’s Wildlife and Fisheries Commission have joined in efforts to save the frog, voting to add it to the State’s list of endangered species of. State listing would mean that a state permit would be required to kill or take one of the frogs from the wild.Sadly, listing and designation of habitat will not enough to save this imperiled species. What we need, and what the law requires, is the development of a “recovery plan” to guide management of the species to ensure that its populations are rebuilt.”Recovering” endangered species or identifying actions necessary to save endangered species from extinction, is what the ESA is all about. Timely development and implementation of recovery plans is critical to saving species because they identify all of the necessary actions to save the species, such as research and habitat restoration and protection.We are hopeful that the Service will acknowledge their duty under the ESA to speedily develop a recovery plan for this frog.BackgroundThe Mississippi or dusky gopher frog (Rana sevosa) is a warty, dark-colored frog with ridges on the sides of its back. It lives in upland, sandy habitats and isolated, temporary wetland breeding sites imbedded within a forested landscape. Gopher frogs spend most of their lives underground, in burrows created by gopher tortoises hence their name. In the winter they migrate to temporary ponds to breed, and after breeding, they migrate back to the forested uplands.Once prevalent throughout Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, the dusky gopher frog is nearly extinct. More than 98 percent of long-leaf pine forests – upon which the frog depends – have been destroyed. Fire suppression, drought, pesticides, urban sprawl, highway construction and the decline of gopher tortoises have made this frog so rare it now lives in only a few small Mississippi ponds – with only one pond showing consistent frog reproduction.Cynthia Sarthou is GRN’s Executive Director.

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