NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A conservation group says the federal government hasn't done enough to save endangered burrowing frogs because it has yet to write up a rescue plan.
The Center for Biological Diversity's legal notice of its plan to sue comes about three months after a property rights group sent such a notice claiming the Interior Department has gone too far in protecting dusky gopher frogs.
The 3 ½-inch-long frogs once lived in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Now about 100 adults live in a few spots in Mississippi, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. There's no way to get a good head count because they live underground, though scientists count the number that spawn each year in ponds so shallow they dry up in summer.
Zoos have fewer than 900.
The frogs' numbers dwindled as loggers cut down 98 percent of the long-leaf pine forests on which they depend.
"In order to save this frog in the wild, we need a recovery plan that would outline all the steps needed to save the frog," said Collette Adkins Giese, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.
The Fish and Wildlife Service's gopher frog recovery team, created this year, will meet in January in Harrison County, Miss., agency spokeswoman Connie Dickard said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press. Over the past several years, she said, it has taken a number of actions to protect existing frogs, including discovery of a group unknown until the mid-2000s.
"The litigation-driven workload has hampered the Service's progress on development of a recovery plan; but, Service biologists are pleased with the recovery work done so far and optimistic about what will be done in the future," she wrote.
Recovery plans are supposed to be written within 2 1/2 years after a plant or animal is put on the endangered list.
"The frogs were listed at the end of 2001. We've got more than a 10-year delay," Giese said.
They're not alone in this. There's no recovery plan for 221 plants and animals protected by the Endangered Species Act — about 14 percent of the total, according to the center. A news release said about 17 new plans a year have been written since President Barack Obama took office, compared to about 18 a year under George W. Bush, 38 a year under his father and 75 a year under Bill Clinton.
Giese said she hopes the government will set a deadline for creating a recovery plan within the 60 days before the group may sue under the Endangered Species Act.
The service hopes to have the plan finished by the end of 2013, but it will depend on team members' schedules, Dickard said.
The other legal notice involving dusky gopher frogs was filed Sept. 27 by the Pacific Legal Foundation, which contends that the department made an illegal land grab by listing 1,500 acres of private land in St. Tammany Parish as critical habitat for the frog. Nearly 5,000 acres in Mississippi also received the designation, which requires Interior Department consultation on federal permits.
The foundation's attorney, M. Reed Hopper, did not immediately answer an email from The Associated Press but apparently has not yet sued: A national search of federal court records Thursday did not find any suit filed by the foundation since April.
Hopper's demand letter said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cannot know what areas are essential because it hasn't decided how many frogs would be needed to repopulate the wild or the minimum area of land they would need.