OTHELLO – Hundreds of endangered Northern Leopard frogs have taken a leap back into the wild in recent weeks at the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge in Grant County.
The releases were made possible by a partnership of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Oregon Zoo, and Washington State University (WSU).
WDFW collected Northern Leopard Frog eggs earlier this spring, and after months of growing in the Oregon Zoo's conservation lab and at WSU, the frogs were ready for release in recent weeks.
Once abundant throughout North America, Northern Leopard Frogs are rapidly disappearing from their native ranges in Washington, Oregon and western Canada.
The species has been listed as endangered in the Evergreen State since 1999, and with only one known population remaining in Washington, there is still a long path to recovery for the frogs.
Likely causes of the frogs' decline in the Pacific Northwest include a combination of threats from habitat loss and degradation, disease, non-native species, and climate change.
By raising eggs through tadpole stage to froglets at the Oregon Zoo and WSU, the partners are working to bypass these threats and grow the population of Northern Leopard Frogs in the region.
"This project was only possible because of the team of partners pulled together by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife," said Lisa Wilson, deputy project leader for the Central Washington National Wildlife Refuge Complex. "Collectively, we were able to take a giant leap forward to protect northern leopard frogs on Columbia National Wildlife Refuge because so many partners were able and willing to collaborate."
Frogs are often overlooked for their significant contribution to the environment, a fact the agencies and their partners are working to change.
"Northern Leopard Frogs are an important indicator of water quality, they are both predator and prey, and many children around the country have their first significant encounters with wildlife by meeting one of these frogs," said Emily Grabowsky, WDFW biologist. "If we can improve and conserve wetland habitat that is good for frogs, we will also benefit other species ranging from other amphibians to waterfowl and deer."
Funding for the Northern Leopard Frog reintroduction is being provided through a competitive state wildlife grant awarded to WDFW from USFWS's Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration program.
WDFW is the state agency tasked with preserving, protecting and perpetuating fish, wildlife and ecosystems, while providing sustainable fishing, hunting and other outdoor recreation opportunities. The agency works to keep common species common and restore species of greatest conservation need.