For the third time in nine years, the Fish and Wildlife Service has revised the designation of critical habitat for the California red-legged frog. The new designation includes 1.6 million acres in 20 counties in California. 75 Fed. Reg. 12,816 (Mar. 17, 2010) (PDF). The revised designation increases the amount of critical habitat by over one million acres from the 2006 critical habitat designation (PDF). The revised designation represents a decrease of approximately 2.4 million acres from the 2001 designation (PDF). The Service revised the prior designations in response to litigation brought by the building industry and by environmental groups. The red-legged frog is widely known as the protagonist in Mark Twain’s The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. The designated critical habitat includes land in the Sierra foothills, the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys, the Bay Area, the Central Coast and Southern California.

The revised designation reflects a continuation of policies adopted by the Clinton Administration and the Bush Administration to exclude from critical habitat certain areas within approved habitat conservation plans (“HCPs”). The critical habitat designation excludes areas covered by three HCPs: Bonny Doon, East Contra Costa and Western Riverside. Reflecting a nuanced changed in Service policy, the designation also excludes certain lands managed under other state or local conservation programs. The Service concluded that “judicious exclusion of specific areas of non-federally owned land from critical habitat designations can contribute to species recovery and provide a superior level of conservation than critical habitat alone.”

The Service also excluded several national defense installations from the designation where the military installations had adopted an integrated national resource management plan under the Sikes Act. Congress amended the Endangered Species Act in 2003 to authorize exclusions of defense installations subject to Sikes Act integrated natural resource management plans. 16 U.S.C.§ 1533(a)(3)(B)(i).

The Service estimated the total economic cost of protecting the red-legged to be approximately $1.34 billion and estimated the incremental economic cost of the revised critical habitat designation to be approximately $500 million.