On Feb. 13, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit denied a petition filed by a group of Louisiana timber and commercial development businesses for a full panel rehearing of their case challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s critical habitat designation for the endangered dusky gopher frog (Rana sevosa). Last June, a three-judge panel of the appeals court ruled in favor of the USFWS, rejecting the business group’s challenge of the 2012 critical habitat designation that includes 1,544 acres of its private land in southeastern Louisiana. Dusky gopher frogs have not been found on that land since 1965, but the USFWS concluded that it contained ephemeral wetlands that could serve as breeding sites and upland forested nonbreeding habitat that could provide refuge for the frog if other sites became degraded by environmental threats or catastrophic events. Since the frog is not currently present on its land, the business group deemed the USFWS’ designation to be a “land grab.” Last week’s 8-6 appeals court vote sets the stage for a potential U.S. Supreme Court hearing if the group files a successful petition for writ of certiorari.
The USFWS listed the dusky gopher frog as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 2001. The dusky gopher frog population was considered endangered largely due to the destruction of its ephemeral freshwater and upland pine forested habitats. It is currently known to live and reproduce in a small number of wetland ponds in southern Mississippi, east of the Louisiana acreage featured in the court case.
Read more about the appeals court’s decision in The Washington Post.