US Fish and Wildlife extends range of Red-legged frog critical habitat

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Sacramento Fish & Wildlife Office
Fish and Wildlife Service Proposes 300% Increase in California Red-legged Frog Critical Habitat
Comment period opens for proposal based on entirely new analysis
Contacts:  Al Donner, (916) News Release
Al Donner, (916) 414-6566
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) today opened a 60-day comment period on a new plan to designate 1.8 million acres as critical habitat for the threatened California red-legged frog (Rana aurora draytonii), an area that is 300 per cent larger than a 2006 designation for the species.

The new proposal is the result of a rigorous scientific review conducted by Region 8 (California-Nevada) biologists, at the direction of Service Director Dale Hall. In July 2007 Hall told the Region's biologists to independently review a 2006 critical habitat rule and propose changes if, in their scientific judgment, changes were needed to assure the scientific integrity of the plan. Hall took that step after concluding that there may have inappropriate influence on the 2006 rule by former Department of Interior personnel.
The new proposal was developed "without using the previous final designation as a base from which to make changes due to the involvement of Department of Interior personnel which may have inappropriately influenced the extent and locations of critical habitat (FR p. 53500)." The new plan is based on improved criteria, beginning with the 2002 Recovery Plan for the species.
"The goal of the Service is to help recover this species, which is a California icon that Mark Twain first made famous in the days when early Californians hunted the frogs as a food delicacy," according to Mike Fris, Acting Assistant Regional Director, Region 8. "This proposal uses the best scientific information available to identify the habitat that is key to the recovery of the species. We will finalize this rule after we carefully consider any comments provided to us by the public."
Among differences from the 2006 rule, the new plan extends the likely dispersal range for the frog from 0.7 miles, the standard used in 2006, to one mile. It also focuses on watersheds and adjusts units based on watershed boundaries. It seeks to protect healthy populations and those that are unique, and provides for connectivity between populations.
The proposal generally avoids areas on the fringes of developed lands, fragmented areas and intensely farmed areas. It also broadens the presence criteria to include areas where the species was not confirmed until after the 1996 listing, but is likely to have been present in 1996. These include Mendocino County and new confirmed findings in the Sierra Nevada.

The new plan proposes 1,804,865 acres of critical habitat, in 49 units in 28 California counties. Habitat has been proposed in the following counties that did not have any designated in the 2006 rule: Calaveras, Kings, Mendocino, Placer, Riverside Sonoma and Stanislaus.
Counties with proposed habitat that also were in the 2006 rule are: Alameda, Butte, Contra Costa, El Dorado, Kern, Los Angeles, Marin, Merced, Monterey, Napa, Nevada, San Benito, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano, Ventura and Yuba.
The new plan proposes as critical habitat, but also recommends for exclusion, 105,013 acres in four counties (El Dorado, Contra Costa, Santa Cruz and Riverside) because those areas now are covered by existing habitat conservation plans (HCPs), which the Service believes provide better protection for the species.
However, the new proposal reverses the approach used in 2006 for two military bases, Camp San Luis Obispo and Vandenberg AFB. Those bases were excluded from the 2006 rule because they were developing Integrated Natural Resource Management Plans (INRMPs) to protect species. Because the INRMPs have not been completed, the new proposal does not recommend excluding the military bases.
The new critical habitat proposal also proposes to maintain the so-called 4(d) rule for compatible ranching operations, an exclusion pioneered in the 2006 rule. The exclusion gives ranchers, on whose land many of the frogs occur, protection from violating the ESA if they continue frog-friendly management.
On many California ranches, the frogs have moved into created stock watering ponds as their natural habitat has been eliminated. The Service seeks continued rancher cooperation to maintain frog habitat by offering them this protection.
A copy of the proposed rule, including maps and specific areas where the Service is seeking information, is available at or at
Comments may be submitted through Nov. 17, 2008. Requests for public hearings must be submitted in writing by Oct. 31, 2008. Comments must be submitted either through the Federal eRulemaking Portal: , and following instructions there; or by mail or hand delivery to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R8-2008-0089; Division of Policy and directives management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222; Arlington, VA 22203.
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit
Sacramento Fish & Wildlife Office
2800 Cottage Way, Room W-2605
Sacramento, CA 95825
(916) 414-6600

Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, September 16, 2008

Contact:      Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 499-9185
                  Peter Galvin, Center for Biological Diversity, (707) 986-2600
1.3 Million Acres May Regain Protection after Investigation into Interior Department Scandals, Citizen Lawsuit
Sacramento, CA – Under scrutiny for political corruption regarding numerous endangered species decisions and facing a lawsuit over improper tampering with protected critical habitat, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to restore significant areas of critical habitat for the California red-legged frog (Rana aurora draytonii). The Service today proposed quadrupling the protected areas by designating approximately 1,804,865 acres of critical habitat for the frog in 28 California counties.
“No endangered species can survive without its habitat intact, and the red-legged frog desperately needs protection of adequate wetlands habitat throughout its former range,” said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Today’s proposal is step toward biological meaningful protections for the frog, but unfortunately numerous other endangered species still have inadequate habitat protections because bureaucrats have illegally slashed millions of acres from proposals by agency scientists.”
In November 2007, under pressure brought about by the Center and the media highlighting Interior Department corruption, the Service announced the reversal of six illegal Endangered Species Act decisions, including the California red-legged frog’s 2006 critical habitat designation. The Service listed the red-legged frog as a threatened species in 1996. It published a proposed rule to designate 4,138,064 acres of critical habitat in 2004. In response to a lawsuit by developers, the Service revised the proposal in 2005 to only 737,912 acres, and finalized the rule in 2006 with just 450,288 acres - a reduction of 90 percent from the original proposed rule. Today’s proposal would increase the critical habitat by approximately 1,354,577 acres.
“Even with the announced increase in acreage, the red-legged frog will receive habitat protection for less than half the areas that agency biologists have identified as essential for the recovery of the species,” said Miller. “Under the Bush administration, the Fish and Wildlife Service has consistently slashed the size of proposed critical habitats, so we will be watching the final designation closely.”
In 2007 the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups filed lawsuits challenging the Service’s refusal to properly designate and protect critical habitat areas for 19 endangered species, including the California red-legged frog. The suits are part of a broader effort by the Center to challenge political corruption harming 55 endangered species and over 8.5 million acres of wildlife habitat. Many of the flawed critical habitat decisions were engineered by Julie MacDonald, the disgraced former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Interior who resigned in 2007 following a scathing report by the Inspector General and investigations into political meddling in scientific decisions by MacDonald and other high level officials in the Department of Interior and the Fish and Wildlife Service.
In a 2007 regional review of endangered species decisions potentially tainted by Macdonald, the California/Nevada Operations office of the Service declared that the red-legged frog critical habitat decision was invalid and should be redone. Director Dale Hall, in a memo to Assistant Secretary of Interior Lynn Scarlett confirmed the frog as one of the decisions “that should be re-evaluated.”
The Service cited a biased and controversial economic analysis as justification for cutting the original habitat designation for the frog from 4.1 million acres to 450,000 acres, a reduction of 90 percent. From 2000 to 2003 the Service shrunk the size of proposed critical habitats for species on average by 75 percent. The Service is contemplating excluding areas from the final rule for the frog based on a planned revision of the economic analysis, and may exclude other areas based on supposed conservation measures in place to protect the species.
Critical habitat can be the most effective tool for recovering species beyond listing under the Endangered Species Act. A scientific study published in BioScience in 2005 showed that endangered species with critical habitat are twice as likely to recover as species that do not have critical habitat designated.
Made famous in the Mark Twain story, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, the California red-legged frog has lost more than 70 percent of its historic habitat. Frog populations have declined due to habitat loss from urbanization and introduction of exotic species such as bullfrogs. The frog is believed to be extinct in the Central Valley and is extirpated from 99 percent of its Sierra Nevada range. Currently, the strongest breeding populations remaining are found along the coast from San Mateo to San Luis Obispo counties.
The red-legged frog prefers ponds, marshes and creeks with still water. It requires riparian and upland areas with dense vegetation and open areas for cover, aestivation (summertime hibernation), food and basking. Undisturbed riparian vegetation is also necessary for female frogs to attach their egg masses, which float on the water surface until hatched (5-7 months).
The proposal includes 49 units of critical habitat for the frog in Alameda, Butte, Calaveras, Contra Costa, El Dorado, Kern, Kings, Los Angeles, Marin, Mendocino, Merced, Monterey, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Riverside, San Benito, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano, Sonoma, Stanislaus, Ventura, and Yuba Counties.

Background information on the red-legged frog can be found on the Center for Biological Diversity Web site at:

Background information on political interference with endangered species decisions by Fish and Wildlife Service bureaucrats can be found at:
Today's Federal Register notice on the revised critical habitat is at:

The Wall Street crisis has been caused by plunging housing prices. So despite the billions of dollars being thrown at the problem, experts say more trouble lies ahead...Chris Isidore
NEW YORK ( -- The nation's financial system is in the midst of a massive shakeup and many on Wall Street and in Washington are pointing fingers and looking for someone to blame.
But in the end, it all comes back to one issue - housing.
Earlier this decade, it was much easier to get a mortgage. Home prices soared about 85% from 1996 through 2006 in inflation-adjusted dollars, creating a bubble.
Then the bubble popped. And the fallout isn't over yet, experts say.
In the past two weeks, the government took over Fannie Mae (FNM, Fortune 500) and Freddie Mac (FRE, Fortune 500), Lehman Brothers (LEH, Fortune 500) filed for bankruptcy and Merrill Lynch (MER, Fortune 500) sold itself to Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500).
If all that weren't enough, the Federal Reserve announced late Tuesday night that it was loaning $85 billion to insurer American International Group (AIG, Fortune 500).
None of this would have happened if the housing market had not imploded, leaving all these firms with staggering losses from their investments tied to mortgages.
"These institutions, which weathered all kinds of calamities before, including depressions, are being knocked out," said Lakshman Achuthan, the managing director of the Economic Cycle Research Institute. "It's a testament to the significance of the problem we have here."
Thus, experts agree that there are likely to be future shocks to the financial system until the housing market finally hits bottom.
Even Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, the administration's point man in the many rescue discussions of the past month, admits this.
"The housing correction poses the biggest risk to our economy," Paulson said the day he announced the Fannie and Freddie seizure. "Our economy and our markets will not recover until the bulk of this housing correction is behind us."

The problem of falling home prices
But because of the depth of the housing problems, it may take a long time before real estate prices head higher again. Here's why.
Home prices, while sharply off from the 2006 peaks, are still high in comparison to long-term gains in income, rents or overall prices, suggesting that they still have a way to fall, according to experts.
The reason housing is wreaking havoc even on insurers like AIG and big investment banks, who do not make mortgage loans, is that during the boom, trillions of dollars of mortgages were packaged together into securities that promised to pay investors with the proceeds of those loan payments.

Those securities paid better rates than other types of assets during the boom years. So many investors from around the globe poured as much money as they could into those securities.
Faced with this demand, lenders starting making more loans to riskier borrowers, including people who might not be able to afford their mortgage payments in the future and even many with no proof of income.
When prices were rising, this wasn't a problem. The risk of loan foreclosure or default was limited because many homeowners were able to sell their house for more than they owed and make a profit.
But once prices topped out and began falling, loan defaults and foreclosures started shooting higher as homeowners found it more difficult to sell their house. This created problems not just for subprime borrowers but even for those with good credit and income.
When foreclosures rose, the value of the various types of securities tied to mortgages started to fall, causing huge losses up and down Wall Street. It also made banks less eager to extend credit because of the risks involved.

A downward spiral
This credit crunch in of itself slowed the economy, leading to job losses and more defaults, feeding a downward spiral that has been difficult to stop.
"A really bad situation -- a home price bubble bursting -- was made significantly worse when the recession began," said Achuthan. "Now we have to let this thing play out."
Some experts even argue that the steps being taken to rescue firms like AIG could make a recovery in housing and the broader economy more difficult, as financial firms and investors become more reluctant to lend money.
"We are certainly taking credit and squeezing it tighter and tighter," said Kevin Giddis, managing director of investment bank Morgan Keegan. "Housing needs buyers. Buyers need credit."
Achuthan said that even though rates for mortgages and other types of loans have fallen in the last two weeks, those loans are becoming more difficult for many consumers and businesses to get because banks are severely tightening their lending standards.
And if housing prices do fall further, that will only cause more losses in the financial sector and perhaps more failures of banks, insurers and securities firms.
"I would hesitate to say the worst is behind us," Achuthan said.

So even with perhaps hundreds of billions of tax dollars going to AIG, Fannie and Freddie, one expert said the only real solution to the housing problem is for the correction in housing to finish running its course.
"We want home prices to return to normal," said Barry Ritholtz, CEO of Fusion IQ and author of the upcoming book "Bailout Nation."
"Until that happens, you can throw as much money at the market as you want at the situation....and it ain't going to make any difference," Ritholtz said.