JACKSON (AP) — A conservation group has filed a federal lawsuit against the Bush administration, arguing Mississippi’s gopher frog and five other endangered species are the victims of political corruption.

The Center for Biological Diversity’s lawsuit says President Bush’s appointees in the Interior Department overruled the opinions of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientists and failed to provide protection for the species.

A center employee said Bush has allowed ‘‘political interference’’ in scientific decisions.

‘‘He’s appointed people at the Interior Department that are downright hostile to wildlife and designating habitat to wildlife,’’ said Will Hodges, a biodiversity advocate for the center.

The gopher frog was once plentiful across the Gulf Coast, but has dwindled to a few hundred specimens in three south Mississippi ponds.

The other five endangered species covered in the lawsuit are the Montana fluvial arctic grayling, the Mexican garter snake, the Santa Ana sucker in California and the Spikedace and loach minnows in Arizona and New Mexico.

Advocates at the center said they have identified 55 species they believe have been affected after partisan officials who favor development overruled scientific opinions.

They point to the recent resignation of former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior Julie MacDonald. She left the agency after the department’s inspector general found she ‘‘has been heavily involved with editing, commenting on, and reshaping’’ reports on endangered species written by biologists.

‘‘This administration just doesn’t want to protect species,’’ Hodges said. ‘‘Critical habitat is controversial because it can hold up or block projects on public land or projects that need federal permits.’’

A lawsuit only tells one side of the legal argument. Federal officials were not available to discuss the center’s claims because of the holiday, according to an article at www.clarionledger.com, but have downplayed similar efforts in the past.

Kieran Suckling, the center’s policy director, said federal law requires officials to come up with a plan to save endangered species. The gopher frog has no such plan.

‘‘It’s been on the list for six years, and the government has taken no steps to develop a plan,’’ he said.

The gopher frog is about 3 inches long with black to brown or gray coloring. It once ranged from southwest Alabama to southeast Louisiana, but it has not been found in Louisiana since 1967 and it has been gone from Alabama since 1922.

Hodges said the frog is ‘‘fairly obscure,’’ but that’s no reason to let it go extinct.

‘‘If we concede on the gopher frog, what is the next species?’’ he said.

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Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com



AP-CS-11-25-07 1654EST

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