Study says frog habitat wouldn't hamper development

LOS ANGELES - Designating more than 5 million acres in California as federal habitat for the red-legged frog would not require changes to most development projects, except in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, a new report says.

The report, by economists hired by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, also predicts that a habitat designation for the frog would result in $9 million to $13 million in additional consulting costs over a decade, some of which would have to be paid by private landowners.

The red-logged frog habitat, which was proposed by the Fish and Wildlife Service in September, would affect 31 of California's 58 counties, from San Diego north to Tehama County.

Environmental groups sued the Fish and Wildlife Service to force creation of a habitat for the creature, the largest native frog in the western United States and the subject of Mark Twain's short story ''The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.'' The case is one of several in which environmental groups have successfully argued that a species requires a habitat under the Endangered Species Act.

Builders and developers said the report released Thursday understates the financial burden that a habitat designation would create.

''They assume it doesn't establish additional regulatory requirements,'' said David Smith, general counsel for the Building Industry Association of Southern California, which has 1,800 members. ''We reject that completely. It renders the economic analysis false.''

Environmental groups also objected.

''We find that it greatly underestimates the economic benefits of the habitat like ecosystem health, real estate benefits and flood control,'' said Peter Galvin of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that sued the federal agency.

The economic report cites Alameda and Contra Costa counties as areas that may have to change development projects, because those areas have proposed habitat lands that are likely to face large-scale building in the future.

The Fish and Wildlife Service will host a public meeting on the economic report in January and a final decision on the habitat proposal is expected by March 1.


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