September 26, 2011

Another Field Season......

Well, the field season is over for another year. I've been doing amphibian-related field work in the High Sierra for almost 20 years now, and I can't remember a summer as weird as this one was. In mid-July, high elevation lakes were still frozen solid. Summer finally arrived at the beginning of August, but in early September I found myself in a backcountry snow storm. As I hiked through a blizzard of swirling white, all I could think was, "What?! Already? Summer has just started!". And for the past couple of weeks, the blue skies typical of early fall in the Sierra have instead been leaden skies portending of thunderstorms. What the heck? 

In my absence from the front country, lots has happened in the world of frog conservation. Most importantly, perhaps, was the die-off of more than 100 mountain yellow-legged frogs being housed at Fresno's Chaffee zoo. The cause of death remains a mystery. These frogs were collected in southern California as part of an effort to establish another captive breeding colony, the progeny of which could eventually be released back into the wild. This incident should serve as an important reminder of how difficult it is to maintain healthy frog populations in captivity. Whenever possible, I'd like to instead see concerted efforts to establish frog populations in suitable natural habitats across the range of the frog. Populations of the mountain yellow-legged frog have tremendous reproductive potential, and under the right conditions could produce lots of offspring for reintroduction to additional sites. And those offspring would come at a fraction of the cost of those from captive rearing facilities. The fact that fewer than 200 adult mountain yellow-legged frogs exist in southern California limits the options available, but I worry that the current focus on captive breeding has distracted us from a broader approach that includes trying to establish additional wild populations. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)-led effort to develop a Conservation Strategy for Sierra Nevada populations of the mountain yellow-legged frog continues apace. This effort is still in the information-gathering phase and I expect that a draft strategy won't be released until sometime in 2012, perhaps around the time that the USFWS begins the process of deciding whether these Sierra Nevada populations should be listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. In addition, the California Fish and Game Commission will soon be meeting to decide whether to list mountain yellow-legged frogs across their range under the California Endangered Species Act. And then, both Yosemite and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks continue to work on their respective park-wide aquatic restoration plans, plans that will likely propose multi-decade efforts to remove nonnative trout from key frog habitats within these jurisictions. I expect that both parks will release draft plans in 2012. 

So, 2012 looks to be a busy year. Stay tuned for updates....

Back to The Mountain Yellow-legged Frog Site.