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Conservation Team Releases Hundreds Of Endangered Frogs Back Into San Bernardino Forest

San Diego Zoo Global

A team of scientists and conservationists released more than 250 endangered frogs back into their native habitat in the San Bernardino National Forest on June 19, 2018.  KVCR's Benjamin Purper tagged along for the releases, and has this report.

I’m hiking up a stretch of wooded creek deep in the San Bernardino Mountains. With me are about a dozen biologists, conservationists, and photographers, all wading through forest and hip-deep water.

The reason?

“We are bringing back the mountain yellow-legged frog here in San Bernardino Mountains,” says Debrah Schier, Associate Directory of Recovery Ecology at San Diego Zoo Global.  

The mountain yellow-legged frog. It’s an endangered species of small frogs that are native to the mountains of Southern California.

Credit San Diego Zoo Global
Debrah Schier releases a mountain yellow-legged frog from its acclimation cage.

At a low point in 2002, there were less than 100 left in the wild. Nowadays, there’s about 4,000. And Shier is about to add even more.

“A couple years ago, there were no frogs left that we knew of. For the first time in the last couple years, we’ve been putting animals back into the population, and this is a fairly large number of animals,” Schier says.  

Today alone, the San Diego Zoo team will release 262 frogs – or froglets, that is. And that’s just one location - there are teams doing the same thing in the San Jacinto and San Gabriel mountains.

Schier’s also using this re-introduction as an experiment. Half of the frogs have already been out here in the wild for about a week in acclimation cages. Those small enclosed cages in the water that allow the frogs to get used to the area without being able to escape.

Schier is hoping to find out if it’s better to release frogs like this, or simply throw them out of buckets.

“When we first release an animal back into the wild animals often don't want to stay where we put them,” Schier says. “They have a tendency to move very quickly and very far, often much farther than their typical dispersal distances. So we look for ways to anchor them to the sites where we release them.”

As we hike, our group stops to open up those acclimation cages and let the frogs out. The biologists open up the cages and take out each individual frog, letting them hop out into freedom.

But that’s still only half the frogs. The rest are in plastic buckets that we’ve been hauling up the creek, and those ones are a bit more fun to release.

One of my fellow hikers is Kim Boss, the District Wildlife Biologist for the San Bernardino National Forest. She explains that this is a massive, multi-agency conservation project, using money from a mitigation fund from CalTrans in 2006 and 2012.

“And using those funds, this kind of conservation effort was kind of spawned and we got the money to actually do some really good work,” Boss says. “The partnership with the San Diego Zoo, we also have the Los Angeles Zoo is involved, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, State Department of Fish and Wildlife, it's a multi-agency partnership.”

Credit San Diego Zoo Global
A reluctant frog sits on a biologist's hand before hopping into freedom.

Zach Behrens is the Public Affairs Officer for the San Bernardino National Forest. For Behrens, it’s important that people acknowledge the incredible biodiversity in this area.

“I would just love the public that, when they think about San Bernardino National Forest, to not just think about skiing and hiking and everything, but that this is also a habitat, and this is what we do, as the United States Forest Service is we're managing a habitat here. And so there's many uses of the forest, but wildlife is one of those very important uses,” Behrens says.

You can learn more about the mountain yellow-legged frog reintroduction program here.

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