Over the past decade, a shy frog has been involved in one of the most high-profile legal cases involving an endangered species. On Monday, after more than a year of weighing proposals and public comments, the Department of the Interior unveiled several changes to the way it implements the Endangered Species Act.
In July, an eight-year legal saga involving the dusky gopher frog came to a close when the Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to remove the property of Edward Poitevent, a Louisiana landowner, from its “critical habitat designation” for the species. The designation delineates areas that are important for the recovery of a species, but often comes with burdensome land-use restrictions.
In 2011, the government included about 1,500 acres of Poitevent’s property because the land encompasses several rare ponds conducive to the frog’s breeding needs. Yet the government admitted “the surrounding uplands are poor-quality terrestrial habitat for dusky gopher frogs” because they lack the particular timber ecosystem the amphibian requires. Moreover, the frog has not been documented in the state for half a century—the surviving population, which numbers about 150, is in southern Mississippi.
It’s no surprise that Poitevent and his family weren’t interested in trying to help recover the frog, which would have been a costly, laborious, and uncertain endeavor of its own. The government’s own estimate found that the designation could have cost the Poitevents up to $34 million in lost development value. In deciding Weyerhaeuser Co. v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last November, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the government agency had overstepped its bounds by including the 1,500 acres in its designation. The justices essentially declared that an area must actually be habitable to be designated as critical habitat for the species in question.
When the Endangered Species Act pits rare species against the people who own habitats that could help in their recovery, no one wins. That’s why the policy tweaks announced this week are sensible.
Read this entire piece at Reason.