How The Supreme Court Could Decide the Fate of the Endangered Dusky Gopher Frog

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The dusky gopher frog might not be much to look at. The species, which lives in a handful of Mississippi ponds, is covered in dark spots and warts. But it's one of the world’s most endangered frogs—and its fate is currently being debated in the country's highest court.

As Nature News and Comment reports, the Supreme Court started its new term on October 1, and one of the first cases on its docket involved the Endangered Species Act of 1973. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has a plan to save the frog by restoring ponds 50 miles west in Louisiana, where the frogs once lived, and move the remaining populations there. The dusky gopher frog, otherwise known as the Mississippi gopher frog or Lithobates sevosus, is threatened by development projects in Mississippi that have destroyed much of the amphibians' habitat. In 2012, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature named the frog one of the world's 100 most endangered species. Now, fewer than 100 of the frogs remain.

Conditions are more suitable in Louisiana's ephemeral ponds because they dry out at certain times of the year and can't support fish, which eat frogs' eggs, The Washington Post reports. The problem? The Louisiana ponds' other characteristics are not quite as agreeable as those in Mississippi, and the 1500-plus acres of land in question are owned by a family that leases them to the Weyerhaeuser timber company. Weyerhaeuser is arguing that it isn't required to alter the land to accommodate the frogs, and that doing so would result in the property being devalued by millions of dollars.

The Supreme Court is being asked to decide whether the government can designate privately owned land as a "critical habitat" even when the conditions are less than ideal for supporting an endangered species. Right now, the Endangered Species Act lets the government designate critical habitat only where the species can live and thrive in the present, not at some point in the future. The eight Supreme Court justices appeared evenly divided after hearing arguments this week, but they could wait to decide the case until a ninth justice is confirmed.

This case is only the fifth challenge to the Endangered Species Act to be heard before the Supreme Court, but the FWS and other government agencies are trying to weaken the act's protections in other ways. The court's decision in the dusky gopher frog case could determine how the government manages endangered species in the future.

[h/t Nature News and Comment]

The Time German and Russian WWI Soldiers Banded Together to Fight Wolves

iStock.com/567185
iStock.com/567185

During the winter of 1917, Russian and German soldiers fighting in the dreary trenches of the Great War’s Eastern Front had a lot to fear: enemy bullets, trench foot, frostbite, countless diseases, shrapnel, bayonets, tanks, sniper fire. Oh, and wolves.

In February of that year, a dispatch from Berlin noted that large packs of wolves were creeping from the forests of Lithuania and Volhynia into the interior of the German Empire, not far from the front lines. Like so many living creatures, the animals had been driven from their homes by the war and were now simply looking for something to eat. “As the beasts are very hungry, they penetrate into the villages and kill calves, sheep, goats, and other livestock,” the report, which appeared in the El Paso Herald, says. “In two cases children have been attacked by them.”

According to another dispatch out of St. Petersburg, the wolves were such a nuisance on the battlefield that they were one of the few things that could bring soldiers from both sides together. “Parties of Russian and German scouts met recently and were hotly engaged in a skirmish when a large pack of wolves dashed on the scene and attacked the wounded,” the report says, according to the Oklahoma City Times. “Hostilities were at once suspended and Germans and Russians instinctively attacked the pack, killing about 50 wolves.” It was an unspoken agreement among snipers that, if the Russians and Germans decided to engage in a collective wolf-hunt, all firing would cease.

Take this July 1917 New York Times report describing how soldiers in the Kovno-Wilna Minsk district (near modern Vilnius, Lithuania) decided to cease hostilities to fight this furry common enemy:

"Poison, rifle fire, hand grenades, and even machine guns were successively tried in attempts to eradicate the nuisance. But all to no avail. The wolves—nowhere to be found quite so large and powerful as in Russia—were desperate in their hunger and regardless of danger. Fresh packs would appear in place of those that were killed by the Russian and German troops.

"As a last resort, the two adversaries, with the consent of their commanders, entered into negotiations for an armistice and joined forces to overcome the wolf plague. For a short time there was peace. And in no haphazard fashion was the task of vanquishing the mutual foe undertaken. The wolves were gradually rounded up, and eventually several hundred of them were killed. The others fled in all directions, making their escape from carnage the like of which they had never encountered."

Afterward, the soldiers presumably returned to their posts and resumed pointing their rifles at a more violent and dangerous enemy—each other.

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