Frogs found only on Mississippi Coast could go to US Supreme Court

In this Sept. 27, 2011 file photo, a gopher frog is seen at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans.
In this Sept. 27, 2011 file photo, a gopher frog is seen at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans. AP File

The dusky gopher frog is an unimpressive-looking little creature: small, shy, covered with warts and facing likely extinction unless its habitat can be expanded.

But property rights advocates say the federal government has overstepped in efforts to save the amphibian, and what’s really endangered are the rights of anyone in the United States who owns land.

The dispute began when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated 1,500 acres of privately owned land in St. Tammany Parish as critical habitat for the species and therefore subject to controls on the land’s development. The issue might end up being settled by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Fish and Wildlife Service says a network of shallow ponds makes the 1,500-acre tract the only potential breeding ground outside Mississippi for the dusky gopher frogs.

But the Pacific Legal Foundation filed a petition last week asking the Supreme Court to review the decision to designate the 1,500 acres as critical habitat.

The plaintiffs in the case, Markle Interests LLC, lost at the U.S. District Court level in 2016, although in making his ruling, Judge Martin Feldman called the government’s action “remarkably intrusive (and with) all the hallmarks of governmental insensitivity to private property.”

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Feldman’s decision. Then, in February, the full appeals court declined to rehear the matter, setting the stage for the plaintiffs to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Edward Poitevent II, one of the property’s owners, said he never imagined he would be seeking redress from the Supreme Court when he received notice in 2012 that the Fish and Wildlife Service had designated the land as critical habitat for the frog.

“I guess I was naive,” said Poitevent, a lawyer. “I thought surely there must be a mistake, and the government will correct its error.”

Read the full story at The Advocate.