Ore. spotted frogs hop toward endangered species list

Federal government proposes protecting disappearing frogs

POSTED: 9:47 AM PST December 24, 2013    UPDATED: 3:43 PM PDT October 24, 2013 
SUNRIVER, Ore. -

There's a little critter in our Central Oregon backyard hopping toward the endangered species list: the Oregon spotted frog.

"We've proposed to list  the frog as threatened throughout its range and propose the designation of critical habitat for the frog," U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Jennifer O'Reilly said Wednesday.

The Oregon spotted frog has been a candidate for the endangered species list since the early 1990s, but O'Reilly says the proposed rules were just announced at the end of August.

Hopefully, not too late.

"Nobody's seen any as far as I know, in the last 50 years in the Willamette Valley," said Sunriver Nature Center principal researcher and biologist Jay Bowerman.

O'Reilly said the Deschutes National Forest hosts the largest remaining populations of the frogs -- but threats here are real.

She said loss of habitat is the main threat the species face in Central Oregon: fire in the upper Deschutes Basin, non-native fish, and invasive plants that choke out the wetlands.

And then there's the spotted frogs' nemesis.

"The uncertainty of things like bullfrogs doesn't guarantee that they (the Oregon spotted frog) are in great shape, even here," Bowerman said.

Bowerman has been tracking and studying the Oregon spotted frog for the Sunriver Nature Center for about 14 years.

He's been studying wildlife in the region since the 70s.

Bowerman said our populations of the spotted frog are robust  -- yet fragile, especially when water levels are manipulated. 

"We went from 1,100 egg masses in Sunriver to about 250 across a couple of years," Bowerman recalled during a time when weirs across the river failed and the water levels dropped.

Bowerman says now, populations have improved and are steady, but the future is uncertain.

"The bullfrogs both compete with the spotted frog and eat them," he said.

O'Reilly hopes federal protection will be part of the answer.

"Under the Endangered Species Act, there's a lot more emphasis, sometimes money goes that way -- research, universities become more interested," O'Reilly said.

Why should you care about a little frog rarely seen?

Scientists say it all goes back to the big picture.

"The spotted frog is the most aquatic frog in the Northwest," O'Reilly said. "It's an indicator of higher-quality environments, higher-quality water."

Bowerman said he often answers the question with another question: "Well, what good are you?" he said. "The first rule of intelligent tinkering is not to throw away any of the parts."

It's a small part of the ecosystem that found a haven in Sunriver.

The federal government shutdown also affected the frogs, slowing the process of getting them on the endangered species list.

O'Reilly said the two public meeting scheduled this month in Sunriver and La Pine were canceled due to the shutdown.

Federal officials had sent out about 2,000 letters to property owners who have land in areas deemed a 'critical habitat' under the proposals, inviting them to the meetings.

O'Reilly said those meetings will be rescheduled for next spring.

Comment periods on the proposed rules are extended until Nov. 12th.

For more information and to review the rules and comment, visit: www.fws.gov/osf.html