Supreme Court jumps on dusky gopher frog case

The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to take up a case concerning the United States Fish and Wildlife Services designation of approximately 1,600 privately owned acres in Louisiana as a “critical habitat” for a species known as the dusky gopher frog, despite the fact the species currently exists only in Mississippi.

The case was filed by a lumber company in Louisiana that holds a long-term timber lease on the land that doesn’t expire until 2043. Lawyers for the company say the tract of land “concededly contains no dusky gopher frogs and cannot provide habitat for them absent a radical change in the land use because it lacks features necessary for their survival.”

They say the service concluded that the designation could cost $34 million in lost development value of the tract.

But the government argued that if the frogs are “translocated to the site” in five ponds that are “in close proximity to each other” that adult frogs could potentially create a “metapopulation.”

Collette Adkins of the Center for Biological Diversity, who argued in favor of the government’s position in the lower courts, described the species is a warty, dark-colored frog with ridges on the sides of its back and when it is picked up it covers its eyes with its forefeet to protect its face until predators taste its bitter skin secretions.

The frog spends most of its life living underground in burrows created by gopher tortoises.

“The frog experts have made clear that habitat in Louisiana needs to be protected if the frog is going to survive,” she said, adding that the frog historically lived in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi but there are currently only about 100 frogs alive in Mississippi due primarily to habitat loss.

The Fifth US Court of Appeals ruled against the landowners, holding that they had not established that the Fish and Wildlife Service interpreted the Endangered Species Act “unreasonably” when it found that the land in Louisiana “was essential for the conservation of the dusky gopher frog.”

The case is expected to be argued next term.