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The Dispatch of Eatonville, Washington

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MORE OF ENDANGERED SPECIES ARE RELEASED INTO THE WILD AFTER THEIR START ON LIFE AT NORTHWEST TREK

Almost as if they were proud parents, humans who helped raise them watched more than 250 Oregon spotted frogs reared at Northwest Trek slide quietly into marshy, Pierce County wetlands on a recent afternoon.

Some of the tiny frogs quickly swam away, while others adjusted a bit to their new environment before hopping along on their new adventures.

The amphibians are endangered in Washington and considered threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Rearing this group of Oregon spotted frogs and releasing them into the wild was a cooperative effort of Northwest Trek, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Sustainability in Prisons Project, Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium and other zoos and state and federal agencies.

On Oct. 13, more than 1,000 of the juvenile frogs reared at Northwest Trek, Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle and the Cedar Creek Correctional Center in Little Rock were sent off on their own into a Pierce County wetland.

The dark green and mottled amphibians with chartreuse-colored eyes appeared almost to sense their release, many of them hopping up and down in plastic containers as they were carried gingerly over swamp grass to muddy wet pools, where the men and women who had carefully reared them prepared to let them go.

Raising the frogs from eggs through the tadpole state and into juvenile status gives them a head start for a better chance at survival when they're released into the wild, said Dave Meadows, an animal keeper who helps oversee the program at Northwest Trek.

The precious eggs were collected from wetlands by the Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists for the program, which aims to increase the native populations of the frogs.

Rearing, or "head-starting," the frogs in a controlled environment gives them a chance to grow without threat from predators until they're better able to survive, according to Meadows.

"Oregon spotted frogs play a crucial role in the wetlands ecosystem," he said. "We enjoy raising them, knowing that their release may reestablish a species that's been rapidly declining in numbers."

Washington officials declared the Oregon spotted frog an endangered species in 1997. It historically ranged from southwestern British Columbia to northeastern California. However, scientists have seen populations plummet, driving the frog toward extinction.

The native amphibian has lost ground to habitat loss from draining and development, disease and the introduction of invasive species such as the American bullfrog.

This is the seventh year "head-started" frogs have been released through the collaborative program. More than 7,000 frogs have been released since the program began, officials said.

Since its inception in 2007, zoos, state and federal agencies have played roles in the Oregon Spotted Frog Recovery Program. They include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which monitors endangered species.



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Original Publication Date: November 4, 2015



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