Endangered northern leopard frogs released back into wild

Sep 7, 2023, 12:03 PM

Image: northern leopard frogs released...

A northern leopard frog (Photo courtesy of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife)

(Photo courtesy of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife)

Almost 300 endangered northern leopard frogs that were raised at the Northwest Trek Wildlife Park were released into the wild at the end of August.

They were released back into the wild at the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge in Grant County.

Once abundant throughout North America, the frog species has been endangered in Washington since 1999. Now, there is only one known wild population remaining in the state.

Marc Heinzman of Northwest Trek Wildlife Park says that there are many reasons why the leopard frog is in trouble, but climate change is one of the main culprits.

Heinzman notes the hotter and longer summers are affecting their birth rates, as well as non-indigenous predators that have been introduced in recent years to the Pacific Northwest.

“Northern leopard frogs, as amphibians, are so sensitive to changes in their environment because they absorb everything in their skin when they’re in the water, so they are often some of the first animals affected by changes to environmental conditions,” Heinzman said.

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The process to save the northern leopard frog

Earlier this spring, in an effort to boost the population of the endangered frog species, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) began collecting their eggs in the wild.

These eggs were then given to partners at the Northwest Trek Wildlife Park, where they grew from egg masses to tadpoles to froglets.

So, WDFW and the Northwest Trek Wildlife Park have teamed up to raise the frog eggs in captivity and then release the mature frog back into the wild.

“We can create a second location where these frogs can be found in Washington state,” Heinzman said. “So that if some tragedy should occur in at their other population in the Potholes Reservoir in central Washington, we don’t lose the entirety of the species; we have others available.”

So why go through all the trouble? Heinzman explains the frogs are important to the habitats of the state, and this could be the last chance to save the unique species.

“They are an important part of the ecosystem and genetically distinct for a population that exists in this part of the country, so if this population goes extinct, we lose that valuable set of genes from the species,” Heinzman said.

Contributing: Chris Martin

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Endangered northern leopard frogs released back into wild