Experts prepare vanishing frogs for release into wild

Experts prepare vanishing frogs for release into wild
SEATTLE -- Some 1,400 Oregon spotted frogs are about to be released in Washington wetlands in a desperate move to save the vanishing species.

Preparing the frogs for release is research scientist Mark Hayes, who is busy measuring, weighing and tagging the frogs at Woodland Park Zoo.

The dying breed once thrived in warm marsh waters from California to British Columbia, but has fallen prey to non-native bullfrogs, waterbirds, disease and development.

"They've lost a lot of their marsh habitat," Hayes said. "They have disappeared from 70 to 90 percent of their geographic range."

The state-endangered frogs are still found in Thurston and Klickitat counties. But if they disappear completely, they don't go alone.

"If they're gone, a variety of things that will be taken along with them -- things like common garter snakes, which eat 95 percent frogs," said Hayes.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife has joined forced with zoos and even a prison to take the eggs, rear them in captivity, and give the juveniles a jump-start at getting big before being released into protected warm wetlands at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Hayes is sticking a rice kernel-sized pit tag in the frogs so the state can track their progress.

"Last year is the first year we found egg masses, meaning some of the frogs reproduced on site," Hayes said.

One of the concerns about raising these frogs in captivity is they don't have any exposure to predators; they're used to being around people and eating crickets. To prepare them for life in the wild, researchers have been performing predator experiments and occasionally spooking the frogs.

The frogs have about a 3 percent chance of survival if hatched in the wild. But that jumps to more than 70 percent when raised in a head start program.