Precious Cargo: Brighter Future For 100 Juvenile Mountain Yellow Legged Frogs, Tadpoles

SWEET FREEDOM: After being released, captive-bred mountain yellow-legged frogs relish their native habitat for the first time. Credit: Joshua Ray/USFWS

By Joshua Ray
November 7, 2016

As I drove up the curving road heading into the San Jacinto Mountains, much of the landscape was dry and yellowed, reflecting the current drought conditions.

After reaching the rendezvous point, I met the group of partners that would be releasing more than one hundred endangered mountain yellow-legged frogs into their natural habitat.

RELEASE DAY: Many partners have come together to help protect the mountain yellow-legged frog and make the captive-breeding program possible, including he U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Firest Service, San Diego Zoo Global and the University of California Natural Reserve System. Credit: Joshua Ray/USFWS

The researchers included a mix of federal, state, and local agencies and organizations, all with one designated purpose that day – to help further recovery of an endangered species.

After getting all their gear together, the group descended into a canyon, their buckets holding a precious cargo of 100 juvenile frogs and tadpoles. Watching the group descend into the canyon, I followed them down until I reached a good vantage point at the edge of a 50 foot waterfall – now nearly dry, but not quite.

I could hear the sound of dripping water. In the drought-stricken, parched landscape of southern California, it was reassuring.  In this arid, mountainous environment, endangered mountain yellow-legged frogs seem to need a little bit of help from friends.

Some of the captive-bred mountain yellow-legged frogs get ready for their release into the wild. Credit:  Joshua Ray/USFWS

Since 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, San Bernardino National Forest, San Diego Zoo Global, University of California Natural Reserve System and other partners have successfully pooled their resources and expertise to captive breed and release nearly 3,000 juvenile frogs and tadpoles into their historic range in southern California.

A partially shaded shallow pool at the base of the waterfall offers a welcoming habitat for these water-dependent frogs.

USGS biologist Adam Backlin releases a group of frogs into a pool in the San Jacinto Mountains. Credit: San Diego Zoo Global

Partners have released more than 1,400 captive bred frogs in 2016, the highest number of releases since the start of the captive breeding program. And in another step forward in recovery of this native species, USGS researchers found evidence of wild reproduction from a group of captive bred and released frogs at Hall Canyon, on San Bernardino National Forest.

“It is hopeful to see the southern California population of mountain yellow-legged frogs reproducing on their own,” said Jesse Bennett, a wildlife biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Carlsbad office. “It shows conditions are right in the key locations that were designated for reintroduction.”

Ironically, though the frog release was delayed because of rain the week prior, the additional water gave the newly released frogs a better chance of survival.

With these favorable conditions -- and having a little help from its friends -- the mountain yellow-legged frog now has a better chance of avoiding extinction.


Joshua Ray is a Veterans Administration intern working in the Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office.