An endangered species is making a “last stand” in the De Soto National Forest, the U.S. Forest Service says.
There are fewer than 150 dusky gopher frogs left on the earth, and they’re all in South Mississippi’s Longleaf pine ecosystem.
The species has so far survived, thanks in part to protected federal lands and conservation projects. Last week, $5.5 million in grants was awarded to 24 projects across the Gulf South that will support the Longleaf pine ecosystem. The grants are funded through the Longleaf Stewardship Fund, a public-private partnership between the Forest Service, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Southern Company and other public and private partners.
From the grant money, $300,000 will go directly toward breeding the dusky gopher frog. But that’s not the only endangered or threatened species in De Soto; there’s also the red-cockaded woodpecker, gopher tortoise and black pine snake.
One of the projects will relocate five pairs of red-cockaded woodpeckers from Apalachicola National Forest in Florida to DeSoto in Saucier for breeding purposes.
Also, the Mississippi Forestry Association and other partners will establish 745 acres of Longleaf pine and enhance an additional 2,500 acres of existing habitat with prescribed fire on private lands. That will benefit habitat for bobwhite quail and other wildlife.
The project will also engage 850 private landowners in South Mississippi through outreach and technical assistance with 12 new landowners enrolled in the stewardship program.
“As our population expands, we lose ecosystems to developments,” said Jimmy Mordica, forest guide. “We work with our partners; it’s an all-lands approach, not only are we working on federal and state private lands, we’re trying to restore as many acres as possible.”
With nearly 60 percent of the forests across the South privately owned, that calls for another challenge.
“We want to help private landowners to turn their land into an iconic longleaf pine habitat that’s going to provide habitat for gopher tortoises the dusky gopher frog and the pine snakes,” said Becky Stowe, director of Forest Programs for The Nature Conservancy. “What’s good for those animals is also good for wildlife such as deer and turkey and quail.”
Preserving wildlife has a greater benefit.
“It’s important to preserve some of our wild areas in their natural state,” Loughman said. “It gives those people a chance to come and see some of God’s creation and really get to enjoy the great outdoors that many of us drive by each day without even thinking about it.”