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Finally, a habitat even a frog can live with 4/29/06
WE may never know how much wood a woodchuck can chuck, but we do know that the red-legged frog will be making do with far less critical habitat in California.

But that may not be such a bad thing.

At one point during a 10-year bureaucratic and legal battle, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated more than 4.1 million acres as critical habitat for the frogs. That 2001 fabrication would have created a barrier to further development in almost all of the greater Bay Area.

But this month, Fish and Wildlife decided to impose restrictions on 450,000 acres in 20 counties that biologists consider critical to the frogs' survival and recovery.

The restrictions take place only when public money is being spent on a project and if an Army Corps of Engineers permit is required.

The restrictions also mean Fish and Wildlife will work cooperatively rather than adversarially with ranchers and landowners to help preserve habitat in private hands rather than imposing sanctions.

Without addressing the particulars of where the frogs dwell and what areas are most vital for their survival, this designation seems much better than those that went before, especially the one in 2001.

The 2001 ruling prompted a lawsuit by the Home Builders Association of Northern California in which a federal court ordered that the agency conduct another review of how much land should be designated as habitat and where.

That resulted in the area being dropped to 738,000 acres in 23 counties. The most recent configuration trimmed another 250,000 acres and three counties from the total. Alameda and Contra Costa counties are two of the three counties that could be most affected by that designation.

David Sunding, the study's author and a University of California, Berkeley, professor of environmental economics, said it followed strict guidelines, and instructions set by the court and Interior Department were followed.

Back in 2001, we objected to the blanket approach Fish and Wildlife took to designating critical habitat for the frog made famous in Mark Twain's short-story "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County."

The fact that environmentalists and developers object to the latest ruling may indicate that it is an acceptable middle ground that save-the-frog advocates, developers, landowners and even the California red-legged frog should strive to live with until we see whether it works.




Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM  Pacific

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