Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A Northwest frog in the national spotlight

Posted by: Fred Koontz, Vice President of Field Conservation and Jennifer Pramuk, Animal Curator

Washington has a reputation for being wet all the time, yet that infamous wet weather belies the real story—our actual wetlands are disappearing, and along with them our native frogs. The most aquatic frog of all in the Northwest is the Oregon spotted frog, who has become an ambassador for our local wetlands now that it has been thrust into the national spotlight.

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Why are all eyes suddenly on this little frog? The Oregon spotted frog is currently being considered for protection as a threatened species under the Federal Endangered Species Act—a listing we hope to see become reality. Though the timeline may be impacted by the government shutdown, there's no doubt that this opportunity presents a major milestone for Northwest conservation.

For the past five years, Woodland Park Zoo has been working with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and their partners to restore populations of the Oregon spotted frog in Washington state wetlands. We support the federal listing and believe the powerful combination of local action and federal protection will build a better future for the Oregon spotted frog and myriad other wetland species under its umbrella.

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Once common and widespread in Puget Sound area wetlands, Oregon spotted frogs are now endangered in Washington. This native frog now inhabits 10% or less of its former range in the Pacific Northwest, and its wetlands are fast disappearing, lost to draining, damming and filling for development. Wetlands are critical to the overall health of our watersheds—they provide important functions for people like flood control, ground water recharge, and recreation. It’s essential to protect the quality of the wetlands that remain as they face pressure from pollution, invasive wildlife, and disease. This makes the federal listing of the Oregon spotted frog all the more important and urgent, as the listing is accompanied by a proposal to designate 68,192 acres and 23 stream miles as critical habitat for the frog.

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Why all this fuss for a little frog? Oregon spotted frogs play an integral role in the wetlands food web. It starts when they are just tadpoles feeding on bacteria, algae, detritus and carrion, keeping their waterways clean. As they grow into adults, they turn to insects for food, keeping in check insect populations that can transmit diseases to livestock, humans and wildlife. In turn, they play their role in the food web as a source of food to apex predators like sandhill cranes, herons, snakes and river otters. 

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Keep the frogs, keep the balance. That’s been our driving motivation for the past five years as we have joined with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Zoo,  Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, Northwest Trek, Cedar Creek Correctional Facility, Evergreen State College and Joint Base Lewis-McChord  to restore Oregon spotted frog populations locally through a head start and wild release program.



Head started frogs start their lives as eggs collected from wetlands by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists. The biologists send the eggs to us and the other partner rearing facilities. Our role is to hatch and rear these frogs to give them a safe, predator-free home during those crucial first months when they transform from tadpole to full-fledged frog. Then we release them to protected wetlands sites where they can breed and augment the wild population. Last year, nearly 2,000 frogs were released into prime wetland habitat and we know that some of them are surviving.  We’re set to continue the effort next year with plans for new egg masses to come in for hatching, head starting and eventual release.

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Now is the perfect time to set a milestone for the recovery of this species and see this federal listing become a reality. Such a listing will strengthen our local conservation efforts, not just for the frogs but also for the precious wetlands habitat they need to survive, and in turn, the countless other species dependent on that habitat.

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Yet, the future of this frog isn’t just in the hands of conservationists or government officials—it’s in your hands too! The choices you make at home have an impact on this frog and its wetlands, and there are easy things you can do that will make a big difference.

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Will you join us and commit to take action for native frogs and wetlands? Let us know which action you pledge to take by voting below:


Pledge to Take Action

I will improve the health of nearby wetlands and Puget Sound by pledging to:



Ready to get involved? Learn more about our Backyard Habitat classes and Amphibian Monitoring Program to discover how you can get started on these actions at home and in your community today.

2 comments:

  1. I love these little frogs. Back in 2008 when I did a conservation internship with the Oregon Zoo the highlight of my entire program was going to Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge on my birthday weekend to participate in an annual Oregon spotted frog survey. I fell in love with amphibians and field work that weekend and I've been cheering on the recovery of these cute little guys ever since. Long live the Oregon spotty frog!

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  2. Native plants feed the insect biomass that feeds the next layers of tropic level energy transfer in a healthy ecosystem. Alien plants do not provide the usable food base for sustainablle, diverse ecosystem. Stop buying and planting alien plants and iradicate invasive alien plants from our cities, suburbs & rural homes; "first, do no harm".

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