It’s Not Easy Being Green, or Yellow, or Red: The Plight of California’s Frogs

During my first thru hike on the John Muir Trail fifteen years ago, on the ascent up to Seldon Pass I encountered a young man energetically trotting down the trail without a backpack. Before even saying hello he asked excitedly, “have you seen any frogs?”  The question was a strange greeting, but this researcher had luckily encountered a fellow frog enthusiast. Subsequently he revealed that he was studying frog populations in the Sierra Nevada. I wish I could recall his name, but his passion for frogs I remember well.

California red-legged frog (Courtesy of Save the Frogs)
During that hike, I encountered hundreds of the mountain yellow-legged frog, a cool little critter that has a raspy croak and loves to swim in alpine waters. When Joseph Grinnell conducted his famous biological inventories in Yosemite and the Sierra in the early 1900s, he remarked that his survey team could hardly move without stepping on these frogs. Today, less than 200 populations of Rana muscosa exist in the Sierra Nevada with an estimated 5,000 adults–they have disappeared from over 90% of their historic range. Sadly, these frogs are headed for extinction soon.So it seems appropriate that on February 2, the California Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to grant this frog protection under the California Endangered Species Act.

Another of the Golden State’s frogs, the California red-legged, is struggling as well. This species was once considered one of the most abundant amphibians in California (and gained famed as being the frog featured in Mark Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”), but now they are listed as federally threatened. The National Wildlife Federation and Save the Frogs named the California red-legged—the largest native frog in the western states—one of America’s top ten most threatened frogs.  Save the Frogs is currently trying to convince Mayor Ed Lee of San Francisco to turn over Sharp Park Wetlands—home to red-legged frogs and other creatures—to the National Park Service to ensure protection. The wetland site is currently a golf course. Show your support for California’s red-legged frog by sending Mayor Lee an email today.

California frogs are not alone in their plight. Over a third of all amphibian species are on the verge of extinction, the result of ongoing habitat destruction, infectious disease, pollution and pesticides, climate change, invasive species and other factors.  The National Wildlife Federation and Save the Frogs are partnering with the National Park Service and other Yosemite organizations to host a Save the Frogs Day event on April 28 in Yosemite National Park to celebrate and help protect these remarkable creatures. Stay tuned for details!

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Published: February 8, 2012