Vote to add gopher frog to La. endangered list

Published 2:00 pm Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Mississippi gopher frog would join Louisiana’s endangered list and the Eastern diamondback rattlesnake and two pine snake species would be protected under proposed changes to regulations covering reptiles and amphibians.

The state Wildlife and Fisheries Commission voted Thursday for changes that would require a state permit to kill an Eastern diamondback or Louisiana and black pine snakes, or to take one from the wild. The proposed changes also include simplified wording.

Scientists don’t know of any wild Louisiana populations of Mississippi gopher frogs, also called dusky gopher frogs. However, they once lived in Louisiana and the species is on the federal endangered list. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated 1,500 acres of private land in St. Tammany Parish as critical habitat for the frogs — a designation the owner is fighting.

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Conservation groups say all three kinds of snakes, like the frog, need longleaf pine habitat, which has almost been logged out of existence. Longleaf pine savannas once covered 90 million acres from Texas to Virginia. By 1998, fewer than 3 million acres of the slow-growing trees remained.

Like the frogs, black pine snakes are thought to have vanished from Louisiana. They’re now thought to be limited to three Alabama counties and 10 in Mississippi, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. There may be some black pine snakes and some Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes in Washington Parish, state wildlife biologist Jeff Boundy said in an email Friday.

The Louisiana pine snake is known in four Louisiana parishes and five Texas counties.

Again like the frogs, pine snakes are hard to count in the wild because they live underground. The frogs generally take over burrows dug by gopher tortoises, which already are on Louisiana’s endangered list. The snakes live in tunnels dug by pocket gophers, their main prey.

The rattlers have been targeted by “rattlesnake roundups” in Alabama and Georgia. Louisiana does not currently have a bag limit on them. Nor do Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida or South Carolina.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is studying whether to list them as endangered.

The proposed changes were recommended by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

The commission will take public comment at its Feb. 7 meeting and by mail through Feb. 20, the department said in a news release Friday. Mailed comments should be sent to Robert Love, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, P.O. Box 98000, Baton Rouge, LA 70898-9000.

The frog would be the first amphibian on Louisiana’s endangered list. It now comprises the gopher tortoise, all five sea turtles found in state waters, and the ringed sawback turtle, found only along the Pearl River in Louisiana and Mississippi.

The three snake species would be added to five kinds of salamanders currently on the “restricted” list of those that can be killed or taken from the wild only with a state permit.