Future releases planned
Efforts to save the endangered Mountain yellow-legged frog in the San Jacinto Mountains have been limited in the five years since the 2013 Mountain Fire. Most of the efforts on the frogs’ behalf have focused on the San Gabriel Mountains.
But Adam Backlin, a U.S. Geological Survey biologist, said that will be changing with the help of the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska.
“The herpetologist there has been working with similar frogs in the desert southwest for 20 years,” Backlin said. “He has been very successful with captive husbandry.”
San Diego Zoo biologists have already shipped 70 frogs to the Nebraska Zoo. Backlin is hopeful their extensive experience will yield a generation of tadpoles this spring, which, as they mature, can be released in the San Jacinto Mountains sometime in 2019.
Releasing captive-bred tadpoles and juvenile frogs has been done in the past. The most recent effort was in 2013 before the Mountain Fire. These releases in three locations on the Hill have resulted in small but viable new MYLF populations, according to Backlin.
Based on the previous work, Backlin said juvenile frogs have a higher survival rate in the natural environment than tadpoles. But a few have survived and reproduced here.
On one of his research excursions to the San Jacintos this summer, Backlin will explore the Willow Creek environment in the saddle of San Jacinto Peak. A native population of MYLF had habitat in the creek area until the summer of 2013. Not only did the Mountain Fire destroy nearby vegetation, but the heavy rains, which helped to quell the fire, caused significant damage to the creek habitat.
This will be a high-priority site for re-establishing another MYLF population on the Hill. Backlin has visited the area numerous times since the fire and saw no evidence of a continuing population. “But now the habitat is converting back to before the fire,” he said, so he is optimistic than new releases will restore the native population.
Government agencies involved in the efforts to save the frog and restore it to its natural environment include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the California Fish and Wildlife Department. The Agua Caliente tribe also participates in the restoration efforts.
The MYLF has been designated as endangered by both federal government and the state. Ultimately, they have responsibility for the population’s survival, he said.
“It’s a challenge to keep the program running,” Backlin admitted. “It’s time-consuming to gain the permits for the potential sites.”
Although past releases have established new populations on the Hill, Backlin still worries about the program’s ultimate success.
“This is the criteria for success, but a few sites are not enough to make me comfortable,” he explained. “Even though there is a breeding population, it is low enough that one fire could wipe out all the population. We need to get closer to when this was a natural population.”