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Student Makes a Difference for Her School, Community, and Endangered Frogs
Photo Credit: Jim Rorabaugh, USFWS
What can one high school student do to save an endangered species? Ask Douglas, Arizona’s Mackenzie Kimbro.
Just before entering her freshman year of high school, Mackenzie and her mother spotted an overgrown pond near her Douglas High. She had been looking for a “Supervised Agricultural Experience” to meet a requirement of her Future Farmers of America chapter. This was the summer she also learned about Gila top minnows (Poeciliopsis occidentalis) Yaqui chubs (Gila purpurea), and Chiricahua leopard frogs (Rana chiricahuensis), all protected by the Endangered Species Act.
With the support of her mother, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge, the National Resource Conservation Service, Douglas High School, and a host of other organizations, Mackenzie set out to make a difference – she began her efforts to restore the pond’s habitat and increase the number of the two native fish and one native frog species that rely on it. Mackenzie soon got approval from the school administration and her agriculture education teacher to renovate the pond.
The pond was established as a safe haven for imperiled fish and frogs in the mid-1990s by the Service and the Arizona Game and Fish Department, but had been neglected over the years and fallen into disarray. It was a jungle of cattails, dead and downed trees, overgrown vegetation, and a body of water that was hidden in the chaos. While the two endangered fish species appeared healthy, there were no frogs. The existing pond did contain two small ranariums, or frog nurseries, but they had been empty of frogs for years.
In working with the high school, Mackenzie and her mother found that the pond was slated to be bulldozed because it was costing the school so much money to keep it going. In fact, over the past few years the water bill for the pond had fluctuated between $800 and $2,400 a month, putting a severe burden on the school district’s limited budget.
Bill Radke, the Refuge manager at San Bernadino National Wildlife Refuge, knew that the water for that facility should have been much less expensive, and it was soon discovered that the pond was in need of a new pond liner and, as a result, had been leaking water for some time. Radke and his staff provided the start-up equipment and the restoration began. Refuge staff used heavy equipment to remove thousands of cattails and U.S. Forest Service crews used chainsaws to thin out the trees.
Photo Credit: Kelly Glenn-Kimbro
Several items were also donated for the project, including rocks and dirt, and native grass hay from the National Resource Conservation Service. The ranariums were landscaped, and are now home to adult frogs and growing tadpoles provided from a neighboring ranch. Mackenzie was also able to secure a donated liner that sealed the pond and prevents leakage in the long term. Funding for the project has come from several sources including money from Douglas High School, from the Taylor Grazing Act, and an Arizona Public Service grant.
Today, the newly renovated pond not only supplies improved habitat for the endangered Yaqui Top Minnow and Yaqui Chub (used by the Service as stock fish), it also houses growing population of endangered Chiricahua leopard frogs. These frogs will eventually be used to stock other ponds in the frog’s historic range, thus helping the species to grow and thrive.
Although the school district’s water bill will continue to fluctuate slightly as pond improvement and maintenance continues, the team has successfully reduced the water bill from over $2,000 a month in 2009 to about $200 a month in 2010—a savings that further proved the project’s worth.
While this project is still a work in progress, it has already created a new home for the federally threatened Chiricahua leopard frog, helped the school district reduce its spending and served as a great learning opportunity for students at Douglas High and surrounding schools. This is a great example of what can happen when the Service teams up with caring citizens to make our natural world a better place.
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