Surveying underway for frog at center of debate

April 18, 2016
Surveying underway for frog at center of debate

BEND, Ore. - While the debate simmers over how best to manage the Deschutes River to protect the threatened Oregon spotted frog, surveys continue to look for numbers of the animal at the center of the court dispute.

Jennifer O'Riley, a biologist from the Oregon office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was out Monday monitoring breeding grounds for the frog, listed as threatened two years ago.

"Late March through April, they're typically breeding and laying egg masses in a lot of the sloughs and marshes throughout the Little Deschutes and upper Deschutes," O'Riley said.

"We collect that information with a lot of our partners and other biologists, and at the same time, monitoring water levels," she added.

The spotted frog was proposed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 1993, and officially made the list in August of 2014.

The frogs are found throughout the upper Deschutes River Basin. But the declining numbers have prompted two conservation groups to sue the federal Bureau of Reclamation and five irrigation districts, claiming the Deschutes is managed like an irrigation ditch, with unnatural rises and falls and low flows that harm the frog's habitat.

O'Riley said she's been monitoring the species for years. She asked NewsChannel 21 not to share the exact locations they're monitoring in order to protect the spotted frogs during this critical time.

"There's ongoing litigation in the basin, you know -- we're not party to that, and others are," she said. "And so it's my job as a scientist for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to be collecting information that is useful for understanding the status of the frog and how they're doing."

Last week, Sen. Jeff Merkley announced a Senate appropriations bill, that could help fund collaborative efforts to assure Central Oregon farmers maintain access to water supplies while protecting the spotted frog.

For now, O'Riley supports collaborative efforts to help this species in need.

"Especially since this involves water -- a lot of spotted frogs are highly aquatic species, they need the water," she said. "They don't get out of the water like other species do. So it's pretty important that we work collaboratively on issues like water management, to hopefully recover the species."

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