Frogs on decline in Tahoe, beyond
The familiar “ribbit” on summer nights may drift into obscurity.
Frog populations are declining worldwide and biologists in the Tahoe Basin are working to bring them back.
“There’s a balancing act that needs to be done,” said Stafford Lehr, a district biologist for the California Department of Fish and Game.
Lehr was one of several guest speakers Monday at the fourth annual Lake Tahoe Biologist Forum.
Reasons for the decline vary. Ultraviolet radiation was assumed to be the main culprit, but research has not confirmed this. Pesticide drift from agricultural development on the West Slope has been observed, but some researchers downplay the severity. The introduction of the bullfrog in the late 1900s, fish planting and habitat loss are being studied as well.
“There’s this manipulation of the habitat … it all has contributed to the reduction of the amphibian,” Lehr said.
Frogs, toads and salamanders live throughout Desolation and Mokelumne wilderness areas. Scientists have been surveying remote ponds and marshlands to find the critters. Since indigenous species of frogs remain in tadpole state for two winters, they are easy pickings for predators. Biologists have found some areas where frogs cohabitate with fish, and others where only fish or frogs are present. With this information, they can determine whether fish stocking needs to be reduced or halted altogether. Rather than breed the frogs in captivity and introduce them into the wild, scientists want to work within existing habitats.
“That’s not solving the problem,” Lehr said.
The overall results of recent surveys by Fish and Game state:
— All frogs are in decline
— Salamanders seem to be holding their own, but monitoring must continue.
— Tree frogs are widespread and numerous.
— Western toads appear to be OK.
— Yosemite toads are in decline, but management may be helpful.
Current trends have scientists speculating when certain species will make the endangered list. The California red legged frog, known from Mark Twain’s “Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” was thought to be extinct. But in 1996, one was discovered, followed by several more findings in recent years. Land has been purchased by the Fish and Game Department to ensure the safety of the now growing population. But the fate of amphibians is still uncertain.
“Is it a worldwide virus? Is it the amphibians ‘time’? There is a lot of research left to be done,” Lehr said.
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