Dou­ble, dou­ble, toil and trou­ble

The U.S. gov­ern­ment wants to give the dusky go­pher frog a fine new home

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

Apiece of land in Louisiana has been des­ig­nated by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment as a crit­i­cal habi­tat for a rare frog, although the dusky go­pher frog does not live there, and never has. Nev­er­the­less, frog trou­ble might be ahead for hu­man peo­ple who do.

To make life con­ge­nial for the frog, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment in­tends to com­pel pri­vate landown­ers to level a healthy na­tive for­est of “closed-canopy” loblolly pine trees and plant new “open­canopied” lon­gleaf pines, torch the land with fre­quent fires to “sup­port a di­verse ground cover of herba­ceous plants,” and en­able 60 per­cent to 100 per­cent of the area to be “man­aged” as a “refuge for the frog.”

That might cost as much as $30 mil­lion, and the landown­ers might be re­quired to pay for it. The case, Wey­er­haeuser v. United States Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice, is work­ing its way now through the courts and it might be one of the first cases that Brett Ka­vanaugh will face if he is con­firmed as a jus­tice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

At stake is the power and reach of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment over all land in the United States. The pri­vate land in ques­tion is not ac­tu­ally the home of the frog, and un­der cur­rent con­di­tions the frog could not sur­vive in St. Tam­many Parish (as coun­ties are called in Louisiana), its pro­posed new habi­tat.

This par­tic­u­lar frog was called the “Mis­sis­sippi go­pher frog” un­til the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice changed its name in 2012, perhaps to make it sound more like a na­tive Mis­sis­sip­pian, and to erase any sus­pi­cion that, be­ing a na­tive of Mis­sis­sippi, it might be re­spect­ful of the mem­ory of Robert E. Lee. (Guilt by as­so­ci­a­tion has be­come fash­ion­able in cer­tain precincts.) In any event the pop­u­la­tion of adult go­pher frogs was down to 100 adults early in this cen­tury, and since then both the cap­tive and wild pop­u­la­tions of the frog have pros­pered and ex­panded in zoos and Mis­sis­sippi breed­ing sites.

Un­der the di­rec­tion of the Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice, the dusky go­pher frog’s realm has ex­panded from 1,957 acres to a crit­i­cal habi­tat of 6,477 acres of liv­ing space in Mis­sis­sippi and Louisiana. The 1,544 acres in Louisiana are in St. Tam­many Parish but with­out “dras­tic changes to the land­scape,” says the Wey­er­haeuser brief, those acres wouldn’t be go­pher frog-friendly.

To live, the 3-inch am­phib­ian needs “ephemeral ponds,” an “open canopy” for­est and an “up­land habi­tat con­nect­ing breed­ing and non-breed­ing grounds.” To ac­com­mo­date, this wart cov­ered, dark brown or black frog would have to be re­lo­cated to Louisiana. The Supreme Court will read the Con­sti­tu­tion and the En­dan­gered Species Act, which gov­erns cer­tain fed­eral ju­ris­dic­tions over pub­lic and pri­vate land, and de­cide. In 1978, Congress amended the species act to limit the gov­ern­ment’s power to ap­pro­pri­ate pri­vate lands as “oc­cu­pied crit­i­cal habi­tat” and “un­oc­cu­pied crit­i­cal habi­tat” that are “es­sen­tial for the con­ser­va­tion of the species.”

Jus­tice Priscilla Owen of the U.S. Fifth Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals ob­served that “the ponds can­not them­selves sus­tain a dusky go­pher frog pop­u­la­tion.” She ob­served that the En­dan­gered Species Act does not give the fed­eral gov­ern­ment the author­ity to des­ig­nate ar­eas of “crit­i­cal habi­tat” based solely on “one fea­ture of an area when that one fea­ture can­not sup­port the ex­is­tence of the species and sig­nif­i­cant al­ter­ations to the area as a whole would be re­quired.”

When ex­posed to bright light or threat­ened, the dusky go­pher frog will cover its face with its “hands.” It’s un­der no threat in Louisiana, where it does not now ex­ist. But if dras­tic changes are taken to en­sure the frogs’ re­lo­ca­tion across thou­sands of acres, with prece­dents be­ing prece­dents, that could lead to dras­tic mea­sures to en­sure the prop­a­ga­tion of all en­dan­gered or even ex­tinct an­i­mals. If sci­en­tists some­day res­ur­rect the di­nosaurs, as some have sug­gested might be pos­si­ble with re­cov­ered DNA, the di­nosaurs might one day seize Capi­tol Hill. What a fine frog stew the rest of us would find our­selves in. Bon ap­petit!

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.