Students aid endangered spotted frog

Wetlands: Program aims to boost numbers of Oregon spotted frog

September 30, 2011 


    • The Oregon spotted frog (Rana pretiosa) has disappeared from up to 90 percent of its range from southern British Columbia to Oregon’s Klamath Valley, largely due to wetlands habitat loss and introduction of invasive species, including bullfrogs and reed canary grass.

    • The frog lives in or near permanent still water, including ponds, wetlands, lakes and slow-moving streams. It has a life expectancy of five to eight years, ranges in length from 2-4 inches and ranges in color from brown to olive to brick red, with large irregular black spots.

    • They breed in the late winter and early spring, and the eggs turn into tadpoles in about a month, growing into juvenile frogs by late summer and early fall.

    • Their call is not loud. It sounds like a woodpecker tapping on wood in the distance.

    • The Oregon spotted frog is on the state endangered-species list and a candidate species for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act. Captive breeding programs are in place at the Woodland Park Zoo, Cedar Creek Corrections Center, Northwest Trek and Oregon Zoo in Portland.

    Source: State Department of Fish and Wildlife, Woodland Park Zoo

The imperiled Oregon spotted frog received a helping hand Thursday from nearly 30 students enrolled in the New Market Skills Center’s Environmental Explorations program.

The students converged in two shifts at a 10-acre wetlands near Salmon Creek, north of Littlerock to help kill reed canary grass, an invasive species that overwhelms frog habitat, and set traps in hopes of catching another enemy of the Oregon spotted frog – non-native bullfrogs.

The $8,000 habitat-restoration project is funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with support from the state Fish and Wildlife Department, Thurston County Stream Team, citizen volunteer Bonnie Blessing and property owner Tim Walker.

“This is a great opportunity for the students to see all these different partners working together to protect an endangered species,” said Craig Baker, the teacher who oversees the environmental program at New Market.

This time of year, the frogs are scattered and in deeper water and not visible to the students. But in late winter and early spring, the amphibians will return to the shallow ponds in the wetlands to lay their eggs.

Blessing discovered the Oregon spotted frog population in the wetlands two years ago, which means Thurston County is home to seven documented breeding sites. The only other known sites in Western Washington are in Skagit and Klickitat counties, according to Michelle Tirhi, district biologist for state Fish and Wildlife.

Blessing keeps tabs on the wetlands and counted 68 egg masses in this year’s breeding season, which occurs in late winter and early spring.

When the frogs are moving around in the breeding season, they prefer the shallow ponds and low-lying grasses, not the tall reed canary grass that is choking off some of their Salmon Creek wetlands habitat, Stream Team coordinator Ann Marie Finan said.

So the students put on waders and hip boots. One group went to work securing black plastic over the top of the reed canary grass, which was mowed down in advance. Another team of students waded in a shallow pond, setting the aquatic traps, which they’ll return to check on today. They seemed fully engaged in the tasks at hand.

“I like science in general and I especially like being outdoors,” said Devon Rammell, 17 and a student at Yelm Extension School.

Keith Syverson, a senior at Capital High School, said he, too, was drawn to the class by his love of the outdoors. After graduation, he wants to enroll in a technical vocation program to become a marine welder.

The Oregon spotted frog is a state endangered species and candidate for federal listing. Not everyone would welcome discovery of an endangered species on their property, but Walker did.

“I thought it was neat,” Walker said of the discovery two years ago. “I enjoy the diversity of life that lives here.”

With so much wetlands lost to draining and development in the past 100 years, Oregon spotted frog habitat is a rare commodity, Tirhi said.

“There are few of these places left, but we’re actively searching for them,” she said.

While the Salmon Creek project is strictly restoring habitat, other efforts to come to the aid of the tiny frog include captive breeding programs and reintroduction of breeding populations to prime habitat, including ponds on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, she said.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444

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