Vanishing Northwest Frog Proposed For Endangered Species Protection

Aug. 28, 2013 | OPB
Amelia Templeton

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  • USFWS has proposed listing the Oregon Spotted Frog as threatened. The species has been a candidate for protection for more than 20 years. credit: Mid Columbia River Refuges
USFWS has proposed listing the Oregon Spotted Frog as threatened. The species has been a candidate for protection for more than 20 years. | credit: Mid Columbia River Refuges | rollover image for more

A small spotted frog that has been getting a helping hand from Washington prison inmates was proposed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act this week.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed listing the Oregon spotted frog as a threatened species.

The frog has become a mascot of Washington’s Sustainability in Prisons Project. Inmates at the Cedar Creek Correction Center, collaborating with scientists, have raised tadpoles for release into the wild with a higher success rate than breeding programs at local zoos.

The Oregon spotted frog was once common in wetlands from British Columbia to Oregon. Today fewer than 50 individual populations remain.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s move to protect the frog comes after a long delay and a lawsuit. The spotted frog has been a candidate for federal protection since 1993. Environmental groups sued the service for moving too slowly to protect the frog and hundreds of other candidate species, and it agreed to take action on the frog by 2014.

Noah Greenwald with the Center For Biological Diversity said development has destroyed about 85 percent of the frog’s wetland habitat.

“Species don’t vote; they don’t have political power and so often times their protection gets swept under the rug. Which is really unfortunate, because the longer protection is delayed, the more expensive and difficult recovery actually is,” he said.

Greenwald says the loss of marshland along the Willamette River was particularly hard on the spotted frog; the species is considered locally extinct in the Willamette Valley.

Oregon spotted frog hatchlings
Spotted frog hatchlings. Credit: Mid Columbia River Refuges

In Washington, the frogs currently have been identified in Whatcom, Skagit, Thurston, Skamania and Klickitat counties. In Oregon, the frogs are found in Linn, Jackson, Lane, Wasco, Deschutes, and Klamath counties.

The species is particularly vulnerable, Greenwald says, because each breeding population is isolated from the others and could easily be wiped out by forest fires or a local catastrophe. Greenwald hopes the threatened listing will prompt the Forest Service to fence off wetlands the frog uses as habitat. That would protect the species from grazing cattle.

In a fact sheet, the Fish and Wildlife Service noted that saving the Oregon spotted frog from extinction could benefit other frog species. According to the service, Oregon spotted frogs have shown a possible resistance to the fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd)), otherwise known as the “frog plague.”

The fungus, likely an invasive species that originated in Africa, has led to the decline and extinction of frog species around the world. Scientists are studying compounds on the Oregon spotted frog’s skin that might confer resistance to the fungal disease.

The federal government will open a 60-day public comment period on the proposed listing for the Oregon spotted frog on Thursday. The agency will make a final decision on the threatened listing within a year.

© 2013 OPB
endangered species Endangered Species Act sustainable prisons Oregon Spotted Frog Center For Biological Diversity spotted frog
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