Look Out, Little Toad

March 16, 1994|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Sun Staff Writer

The battle of toad vs. road in St. Mary's County has moved into the realm of legislative politics.

For the first time since the state Nongame and Endangered Species Conservation Act was adopted in 1971, a delegation of lawmakers is asking for an exemption to the act. The exception would allow the county to improve Indian Bridge Road despite the state decision that the project threatens the existence of the eastern narrow-mouthed toad, listed as endangered in Maryland.

As a hearing on a number of bills before the House Environmental Matters Committee dragged into the late afternoon yesterday, witnesses for the county and the state waited to testify on the toad legislation, filed last month by the three delegates and two senators in the St. Mary's County delegation.

Del. J. Ernest Bell, a Leonardtown Democrat, says the county's goal of making the road safer by widening and straightening nearly four miles of it outweighs the importance of the toad. And besides, he says, nobody's seen the little amphibian in that part of St. Mary's County since 1986.

"It's inconclusive," says Mr. Bell, interviewed outside the hearing room. "We don't even know where the sighting was."

Officials of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources say there's no question about their determination that the toad is endangered in Maryland, the northernmost edge of its range, and that it was spotted by the roadside in an area that would be affected by the project.

The toad was sighted in August 1986 at the southwest fringe of St. Mary's River State Park by a man who works for the DNR's public lands and forestry division in Annapolis.

The sighting was recorded by the state and the record turned up when the county requested a nontidal wetlands permit for the road work.

The last reported sighting of the toad in Maryland was in 1990 in Worcester County, says Robert A. Bachman, the DNR's director of Fish, Heritage and Wildlife Administration.

The toad, about the size of a half-dollar, is abundant in states south and west of here but rare in Maryland.

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