A former Department of Interior political appointee may have improperly removed federal critical habitat protection for the red-legged frog in California and other endangered species in the U.S., according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
One area in question is 27,000 acres straddling Solano and Napa counties in the American Canyon area, according to rough maps provided by the federal agency overseeing the federally endangered species. Most of that land is privately owned, according to the federal agency.
Developers in American Canyon have to negotiate with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on mitigation measures to protect the red-legged frog.
The Napa Valley Unified School District’s board of trustees, who plan to build the future American Canyon High School at the corner of American Canyon Road and Newell Drive, in December purchased 317 acres of adjacent vacant land that is home to the red-legged frog.
The district purchased the 317 acres in order to mitigate any effects on the frog. The district continues negotiations with Fish and Wildlife the biologist in charge of the negotiations said this week.
Any redesignation of critical habitat will have no effect on plans to build the future American Canyon High School, stressed Geoff Monk, the district’s biologist consultant.
Under the federal Endangered Species Act which protects the red-legged frog, a critical habitat is a geographical area that “contains features essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and that may require special management and protection,” said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Web site.
Jeff Miller, a spokesman for the environmental group Center for Biological Diversity in San Francisco, recently explained that critical habitats provide an extra layer of protection to the red-legged frog. Federal agencies are not able to issue permits to develop critical habitat land without consulting first with Fish and Wildlife.
Al Donner, a spokesman for Fish and Wildlife, however, stressed that American Canyon developers already have to report to his federal agency if their project would harm an endangered species like the red-legged frog, regardless of whether or not the land is designated as critical habitat area.
Federal agencies have to consult with Fish and Wildlife about what’s being done within the critical habitat. Federal agencies cannot issue “negative declarations” — a green light for development — for land designated as critical habitat.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on July 20 announced the federal agency will review eight decisions under the U.S. Endangered Species Act after questions were raised about the integrity of the scientific information and the appropriateness of the legal standards used in reaching the conclusions. The decisions were issued under Julie MacDonald, a former deputy assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife, who resigned on May 1.
In 2001, Fish and Wildlife Serviceproposed to designate 4.5 million acres of California land as critical habitat for the red-legged frog. In 2006, however, the federal agency’s final decision was that only 10 percent of the original proposal — or 450,000 acres — be designated as critical habitat, according to information from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Donner said the review of the critical habitat for the red-legged frog is not yet scheduled.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife announced it has already begun a review of decisions affecting the white-tailed prairie dog in parts of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Montana; the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse in sections of Colorado and Wyoming; and 12 species of the Hawaiian picture-wing flies.
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