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Calaveras Jumpers Threatened Twain’s Famed Frog On Species List

The California red-legged frog, celebrated for its jumping abilities by Mark Twain more than 130 years ago, officially was declared threatened Monday and put under federal government protection.

The decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the first listing of a species under the Endangered Species Act since the recent end of a yearlong moratorium on listings. The law has been under intense attack from some members of Congress, who claim it is overly intrusive against property owners.

The California red-legged frog is believed to be Mark Twain’s fabled “Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” But since Twain’s story was published in 1867, the West’s largest native frog has been eliminated from 70 percent of its historic range in California - more than 90 percent in Southern California - largely because of urban and agricultural development.

Worldwide, biologists say, frogs and other amphibians are vanishing at a dramatic pace.

Monday’s decision means private and public projects that could damage the frog’s habitat will undergo federal reviews requiring conservation measures.

The decision to list the frog was expected a year ago, but Congress, embroiled in a fiery battle to revise the Endangered Species Act, prohibited use of federal money to list species from April 1995 until last month, when President Clinton lifted the moratorium as part of the new budget deal.

“This is not just some insignificant critter,” said biologist Mark Jennings, who nominated the species in 1992. “It’s part of American folklore, and this puts it on the same plane as a lot of high-profile species like wolves and grizzlies. This was the frog that made Mark Twain famous.”

California developers criticized the listing, saying it was made without adequate surveys to prove the species’ threatened status, especially on public lands.