WE NOW PROTECT THE GOPHER FROG?
by Whit Gibbons
December 10, 2006
was inspired by two seemingly unrelated events. First, Michael Dorcas
of Davidson College and I are in the process of writing a book called
"Frogs and Toads of the Southeast" to be published by the University
of Georgia Press. Second, when the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives
reconvene next month they will have a different configuration. What is
the common thread between these two situations? Environmental protection,
specifically, protection for the gopher frog.
about frogs quickly realizes that the numbers for individuals, populations,
and species are declining worldwide at a rate faster than any since the
dinosaurs disappeared. The geographic reach of this frog problem includes
the United States, where we supposedly have an enlightened attitude about
conservation and the environment. Our conservation ethic should translate
into protection of our native wildlife, especially when we can identify
measures that could be taken to preserve the integrity of a species. Too
often, however, environmental concerns take a backseat to commercial enterprises
if vast sums of money can be made at the expense of a species that may
need protection. In the last few years murmurings that we need to weaken
the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 have floated across the
halls of Congress and throughout the land.
But a frequently
repeated statement in the ESA is that the government's approach to coping
with endangered species problems will be "based on the best scientific
and commercial data available." In other words, economic considerations
are already incorporated into the question of how to deal with endangered
species. So, any time I see someone crafting a plan to weaken or contravene
the rules of the ESA, I get suspicious.
the gopher frog is the most appealing frog I know, in several ways. A
calling male sounds exactly like someone snoring, a loud and marvelous
noise you can actually enjoy, when it's coming from a frog and not your
bedmate. Another lovable feature is that when you pick up a gopher frog,
it will put its hands in front of its face, like a child playing peek-a-boo.
When they do look at you, gopher frogs have a big-eyed, imploring look
that seems to ask, "Have we met before?"
once ranged from North Carolina through most of Florida to Louisiana.
But the number discovered in recent decades has been disturbingly low.
None have been seen in Louisiana since the 1960s. In Mississippi they
now exist only in two small breeding populations. They are still known
from a few sites in southern Alabama. In the last two decades, most sightings
of South Carolina gopher frogs have been on the Department of Energy's
Savannah River Site, where habitat protection and opportunities for ecological
field research are ideal. Likewise, in Georgia most have been found in
undeveloped areas: on two military bases and a private quail plantation.
Those in Mississippi and Louisiana are officially recognized as "endangered,"
but elsewhere they have no true protection.
if you have not seen a gopher frog, you may never get a chance to do so,
and almost certainly your great-grandchildren will not unless we take
immediate steps to conserve this charming creature. The gopher frog is
rare, is seemingly becoming rarer, and needs to be protected in every
state where it occurs. In earlier years, state departments of natural
resources, federal agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
and private timber and pulpwood companies expressed concern about the
species. This evidence of concern was a good sign, an indication that
many people cared about the status and fate of this fascinating animal.
Now is the
time to reestablish a proper sense of balance about protecting gopher
frogs and other native wildlife. The current congressional makeup is unlikely
to allow any changes in laws and regulations that weaken the ESA. That
threat is presumably behind us for awhile. Now we need to start assiduously
implementing the endangered species process again. Let's not permit commercial
exploitation to stand in the way of protecting our natural heritage of
native plants and animals. Balancing economic and environmental concerns
is in the best interest of all species--including our own. Let's start
with the gopher frog.
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