Spotted frog recovery likely to be long process

Oct 11, 2014

Bend Bulletin

Spotted frog recovery likely to be long process Meet the Oregon spotted frog.

Found in Bend’s Old Mill District, along the Deschutes River upstream from Bend and around Sunriver, the speckled amphibian in late summer became the first Central Oregon species to garner federal protection in 16 years. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the spotted frog as threatened on Aug. 28 and plans to finalize the listing this fall. The bull trout, labeled as threatened in 1998, was the last animal in Central Oregon to be listed.

The frogs’ range used to extend from far Northern California to British Columbia, but it has vanished from more than three-quarters of this territory, according to Fish and Wildlife. Surveys in 2011 showed the frogs were down to 12,850 breeding adult frogs in all of Oregon.

The reasons for Fish and Wildlife’s listing vary from the frog’s habitat loss to being the prey of hungry, invasive bullfrogs. While scientists have gathered information on the frogs for years, many mysteries remain.

“There are going to be all kinds of studies,” Jennifer O’Reilly, a Fish and Wildlife biologist in Bend, said Friday.

For now, the focus will be identifying crucial habitat, but future studies could focus on where spotted frogs go during winter and how they react to chemical exposure. As scientists learn more about the frogs, research and studies will eventually turn to recovery plans and projects.

O’Reilly cautions people expecting to see immediate improvements to the situation for spotted frogs: This will take time.

Most species don’t respond quickly, so it can take years, if not decades, for their populations to build. For example, the bull trout has been listed as threatened for 16 years and its status probably won’t be changing anytime soon. The northern spotted owl, still under the federal Endangered Species Act protection in Central Oregon, was listed as threatened in 1992.

“It’s kind of a long process with recovery,” O’Reilly said.

Frogs and water

Spotted frogs are particularly fond of water, spending most of their lives in it. Wetlands and riverside marshes make up their prime habitat. County and state rules already protect wetlands, so Deschutes County planners have said there probably will be little change to building or recreation due to the listing of the frog.

Just two years ago a young boy discovered a spotted frog at the Old Mill. Since then, Fish and Wildlife and the developers of the Old Mill forged an agreement to ensure conservation of the frog while continuing development.

Protections for the frog could eventually affect how state water managers regulate flows down the Deschutes River upstream of Bend. That, in turn, could change when and how much water irrigation districts draw from the river. But just how flows might change is unknown.

“We are in talks of altering the flows for the different life cycles (of the frogs),” said Jeremy Giffin, Deschutes basin watermaster for the Oregon Water Resources Department.

Breeding season for the frogs comes before Deschutes flows have picked up in the spring for the coming growing season, O’Reilly said. But before there are any changes to how the river is managed, there needs to be more study of the frogs.

“We are gathering information (to) better understand the specie’s needs so we can more effectively manage its conditions,” she said.

Frog search and study

Much of what is known about the Oregon spotted frog in Central Oregon comes from the work of Jay Bowerman, principal researcher at the Nature Center in Sunriver. Bowerman has been collecting information on the frogs for more than 15 years.

Regularly pulling on waders and venturing into mucky riverside marshes and ponds, Bowerman weighs, measures and tags the frogs he finds in crawfish traps. A pair of volunteers help him in the frog catching and data gathering.

He said he’s trying to learn the fundamentals about the frogs and isn’t trying to answer any particular questions.

“It’s really just understanding the beast,” Bowerman said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812, ddarling@bendbulletin.com

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