In the United States, you can find 13 of the 34 different species of pocket gophers burrowed beneath the ground. Gardeners often want to get rid of them, as they often invade one’s yard in great numbers. But there’s another type of gopher-named creature that’s rarely seen, and it’s possible that its future could once again hang in the balance. That’s right: the dusky gopher frog’s mere existence could be in jeopardy… again.
The dusky gopher frog (also known as the Mississippi gopher frog) is a rare animal that’s native to the southern United States. While it was once found in droves in Alabama and Louisiana, it’s now only found in Mississippi; it hasn’t been seen in Alabama since the 1920s or in Louisiana since the late ’60s. There are only two known populations at present: one consisting of about 100 frogs in Harrison County, Mississippi, and the other spread out in wetlands in Jackson County.
While a human can last three to four days without fresh water, frogs need access to water at pretty much all times. Although they live both on land and in water, they cannot live if their skins dry out. Frogs are actually considered to be one of the earliest signs an eco-system is in trouble, as water or habitat pollution directly impacts frogs’ health and their ability to survive. Due to habitat loss and the reduction of other species (like the gopher tortoise, whose burrows this frog often uses), the dusky gopher frog has had a very tough time. This species has been listed as endangered by the state since 1992 and by the nation since 2001 and is regarded as the rarest amphibian in the whole of North America. Back in 2012, the U.S. government finally stepped in to protect the remaining habitat of the dusky gopher frog — but legal battles have ensued since.
Of course, developers and those who support them are not in favor of the government’s decision. It’s kept organizations like Weyerhaeuser, a timber company, from being able to clear land in that area. Opponents of these protections argue that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service overstepped its bounds when it declared this land — which consists of 6,477 acres of land and includes 1,600 privately-owned acres that are currently unoccupied by these frogs — off-limits for development. That’s partially because the protection includes land that’s far away from the current habitat of existing dusky gopher frogs and assumes that the parcel would make a viable breeding ground — if the frogs could be relocated. While 20 states have come out in support of Weyerhaeuser’s suit against the government agency, environmental protection groups, biologists, and wildlife experts want the habitat to remain untouched.
This is all coming to a head now because the Supreme Court will hear this case in October 2018. It’ll be the first case involving Judge Brett Kavanaugh, provided that the Supreme Court nominee is confirmed. Considering Kavanaugh’s and the current administration’s stance on environmental issues, this could spell disaster for this rare frog (and many other species, as well). Judge Kennedy’s sudden retirement has thrown a lot of groups for a loop. But until Kavanaugh is confirmed and the case is heard in October, there’s not much to be done other than worry, wait, and spread awareness about how the potential loss of these endangered species will negatively affect every other being on the planet — including humans.