Staff at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park in Eatonville have raised over 300 endangered northern leopard frogs from the egg to froglet stage and are set to release them in Eastern Washington at the end of August.
On Aug. 9, Northwest Trek and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife staff observed, measured, weighed and tagged 53 of the 300-plus endangered northern leopard frogs. The efforts will allow scientists to identify the frogs in the future and track their growth.
Lindsay Nason, northern leopard frog biologist with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the population of the species isn’t “doing so great” due to habitat loss and invasive species.
“The northern leopard frog is a Washington state-endangered species of pretty high concern,” she said. “We only have one semi-stable population of the species left in the whole state, and even though there’s a pretty widespread range in Canada and through the West, all of these states are seeing declines. There’s a lot of things going on that keep them decreasing and not recovering. Our project with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is we’re trying to establish translocation sites because if something devastating happens at these sites they’re already at, that’s it. It’s also not great for a population to only be in one place anyways.”
She added disease outbreak or water contamination and other factors pose additional threats to the frogs. The eggs can be located in Central or Eastern Washington as they’re specific to the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge.
“We really want to get frogs set up at other locations. Through our partnership with Northwest Trek and Oregon Zoo, we find eggs in the wild from our source population, and we bring some of those eggs here and to the Oregon Zoo. They keep them for us and protect them,” Nason said. “We need to intervene and keep as many of those eggs and tadpoles alive as possible so we can ramp up our numbers and try to get them reestablished at the new sites.”
Dave Meadows, assistant curator at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park, oversees the frog keepers and works day to day to ensure things are going as planned at the work site.
In late winter, Meadows said WDFW surveys for frog breeding calls and looks for activity near egg locations in the wild. Once the department finds an egg mass, staff retrieve it and bring it to Northwest Trek to be monitored throughout development.
“They’ll bring the egg masses to us, and we have these floating net pens. The framework of the floating net pen is a kid’s pool noodle with a net, and they float in these tanks. We put a specific number in each one so it isn’t too dense of a population,” Meadows said. “Then we raise them. Once they hatch out, there’s some natural algae they get fed. Once they become frogs, they’re eating insects. We have a cricket operation nowadays, as well.”
Meadows said the frogs entails monitoring their health, the quality of water and more.
“The northern leopard frog is a native species that’s in peril,” he said. “We’re happy that we can help these guys out because most of us have never seen a leopard frog. There’s so few that most of us have never seen one in the wild. We’re just happy to have the staff and everybody enthusiastic about taking care of these little guys.”
Northwest Trek prepares to receive the egg masses in April but typically receives them in the first week of May, Meadows said. From May to late June or early July, the frogs will begin to go through metamorphosis, or from tadpole to frog.
“From that point, they begin to eat the crickets that we provide. In the wild they’re eating a variety of different insects, but here it’s crickets,” Meadows said. “By the end of August, we hope to have these guys on the east side and living in the wild of Eastern Washington. Raising frogs isn’t a year-round process, but the thought process and preparation tends to be more of a year-round thing.”
Meadows and Nason each find their work with the northern leopard frogs to be rewarding. Nason, who is in her first year as a biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said she’s always wanted to do active conservation.
“I started doing research in college, and it was great to do that,” she said. “I hoped my research contributed and that people would read it, but you can’t know what is going to be done just from research, so I really wanted an opportunity to be doing something with an animal or group of animals. This has been a fantastic opportunity for me to be working with this species and all of our partners and trying to make a difference for this species.”
Tessa Miller, media relations for Northwest Trek, said having a conservation project on site in Eatonville means a lot to both the park and those involved.
“A huge part of Northwest Trek’s mission is working on these conservation projects, and a lot of them are happening off site where we can’t be as hands on and involved,” Miller said. “To be able to have frogs on site here, where the keepers are raising them and watching them be released into the wild, is really cool.”
Northwest Trek’s hours are from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily at 11610 Trek Drive E in Eatonville. Learn more at https://www.nwtrek.org/.
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