FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEENRD
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2000(202) 514-2008
WWW.USDOJ.GOVTDD (202) 514-1888
ENVIRONMENTAL CONSULTANT PLEADS GUILTY TO
HARMING RARE CALIFORNIA RED-LEGGED FROGS AT HOUSING DEVELOPMENT
WASHINGTON - The Justice Department announced that environmental consultant John Zentner, 46, of Orinda, Calif., and the business he operates, Zentner & Zentner, of Emeryville, Calif., pled guilty today to criminal charges under the Endangered Species Act for illegally taking threatened California red-legged frogs at a new housing project in Concord, Calif.
John Zentner pled guilty to a single charge, and Zentner & Zentner pled guilty to three, for collecting, relocating and ultimately harming California red-legged frogs without first notifying federal or state wildlife authorities or obtaining the required "taking" permit under the Endangered Species Act.
Federal Magistrate Judge Wayne D. Brazil in Oakland sentenced the company to a $65,000 fine, as jointly recommended in a plea agreement filed with the court. John Zentner has agreed to pay a $10,000 fine and he also faces a potential jail term under a separate plea agreement. Sentencing for Mr. Zentner is scheduled for Feburary 15, 2001 before Judge Brazil.
This case is one of the few criminal prosecutions to date under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that involves the "taking" of a protected species, or modifying its habitat in a way that significantly impairs essential behavior patterns (breeding, feeding and sheltering) so as to result in death or injury to the species.
The California red-legged frog, found only in California, is said to have inspired Mark Twain's The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. The species was placed on the ESA list in 1996 due to its dwindling numbers, resulting mainly from the development of the wetlands habitat in which it thrives.
Zentner & Zentner was hired as an environmental consultant to help obtain project-related permits and perform ecological monitoring services on a new six -acre residential development known as the Holly Creek Estates. The company also was hired to ensure compliance with federal and state rules for preserving wetlands and protecting animal species.
John Zentner admitted that he was contacted by both the United States Fish and Wildlife Service ("USFWS") and the California Department of Fish and Game ("CDFG") about their concerns that the development site provided habitat for the California red-legged frog, and that the species had been found on the adjoining property.
Based upon Zentner & Zentner's inadequate survey for frogs at the site, John Zentner on several occasions in 1998 reported to those agencies his belief that no such frogs inhabited the site. He also reported the same to the Army Corps of Engineers which, due to the presence of wetlands at the site, also had to approve activities potentially detrimental to the frogs.
John Zentner admitted that in January 1999, after learning from Zentner & Zentner employees that they had just seen several California red-legged frogs on site -- and several months before the groundbreaking was to occur -- he failed to report this information to the federal and state agencies. Nonetheless, based upon the existence of the frog on the adjoining property, the USFWS recommended a plan for mitigating harmful impacts on the frogs that the agency believed might inhabit the Holly Creek site. The agency suggested steps such as setting aside sensitive habitat, developing adequate buffer zones around sensitive habitat, and planning to place undeveloped land into a conservation easement to protect those areas from future development.
However, Zentner & Zentner did not seek permission to capture or relocate the frogs, and therefore no permit authorizing a take of the frogs was issued.
On May 25, 1999, John Zentner, with the assistance of Zentner & Zentner employees, relocated as many as six to eight California red-legged frogs from the watercourse running through the Holly Creek Estates site to the one pond on the site.
On July 27 and July 28, 1999, at John Zentner's direction, more than 50 California red-legged frogs and more than 500 tadpoles were collected by Zentner & Zentner employees and relocated from one portion of the pond that was to be filled in to another portion that was to be preserved.
Neither John Zentner nor anyone else associated with this project had applied to the USFWS for a permit to collect, relocate or take the frogs. On July 29, 1999, most of the pond in which the frogs had been found was filled in at the direction of the developer. Because Zentner first collected and relocated the frogs and tadpoles to the now-smaller pond -- within 15 feet of the new homes -- the pond was incapable of sustaining them and many died.
"Deliberately modifying the habitat of threatened or endangered species in a way that upsets their essential life functions harms biological diversity and degrades our environment," said Assistant Attorney General Lois Schiffer. "Had the Fish and Wildlife Service been notified of the existence of the frogs, as required, the development of this site would have been allowed even as measures safeguarding the frogs were undertaken."
Individuals convicted of taking a "threatened species" under this provision of the Endangered Species Act are punishable by a statutory maximum sentence of up to six months of imprisonment and a $25,000 fine, while the taking of an "endangered species" is subject to a statutory maximum sentence of up to one year imprisonment and a $100,000 fine (or a $200,000 fine for businesses).