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Posts Tagged ‘frogs’

by Rosa Albanese, Watershed Stewards Project Member

I love frogs When I was asked to organize the 2014 Frog Docent Program at MMWD to get people on board with protecting Mt. Tam’s very own foothill yellow-legged frog (Rana boylii), I was excited because, simply put, frogs are really cool and definitely worth saving. Here are just a few reasons why:

  • They are one of earth’s best indicator species. Their ability to breathe through their skin and their reliance on clean water and clean habitat free of toxics and pollutants means that they are extremely sensitive to changes in the environment. It should be a warning sign to all that if frogs are not doing well, then something is wrong.
  • They serve as a critical part of the food web. Not only do frogs provide a meal to other animals like fish, birds, dragonflies, beetles, and snakes, frogs also prey upon insects such as mosquitoes, which may be vectors for nasty pathogens such as West Nile virus and heartworm.
  • They provide medical researchers with the potential to improve human health. Many pharmaceuticals used to save millions of lives have come from the skin secretions of some very special frog species. Some examples include medicines that help block HIV transmissions, reduce high blood pressure, and treat antibiotic-resistant staph infections.

The sad part is that on a global scale one-third of the world’s amphibian population is diminishing. On a local scale it is just as depressing. The foothill yellow-legged frog population has disappeared from more than 45% of its historic range in California and Oregon, in part due to habitat loss, pesticide use, introduction of exotic predators, disease, water impoundments, logging, mining, and grazing in riparian zones. Kermit was right when he said, “It’s not easy being green.” The current drought conditions are certainly not making matters any better for wildlife. All is not lost, however. There are many things you can do to give frogs a break and make it easier for them to survive and reproduce.

Here are just a few:

  • Conserve water: Clean, cool water is a precious resource and should be conserved at all times but especially during a drought. Simple graywater systems can be implemented around your home; some are as easy as using a bucket to catch water from your sink or tub to flush the toilet!
  • Avoid pesticides: They end up in waterways and harm amphibians. Don’t use them around your home and don’t support them by purchasing fruits and vegetables that are sprayed with them. There have been several examples showing declines in frog populations near agricultural areas and fatal mutations in frogs exposed to herbicides or pesticides.
  • Reduce, reuse, and recycle! Do these in that order and not only will your wallet thank you but the planet will, too.
  • Volunteer to become a frog docent at the water district. Spend a few weekends at Little Carson Falls, a popular hiking destination, informing visitors about the frogs’ plight and keeping foot traffic out of the frogs’ sensitive breeding habitat. The training will be held Saturday, February 22, from 9:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. For more information and to reserve a spot, contact volunteerprogram@marinwater.org or call 945-1128.

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Students volunteers on the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed

Student volunteers on the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed show off the results of their hard work—a mountain of non-native broom.

The Marin Municipal Water District honored 40 volunteers at a special recognition lunch recently for contributing their valuable time to the protection and preservation of the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed during fiscal year 2012/13. These volunteers donated nearly 7,500 hours—the equivalent of $185,625 in labor—to activities like trail maintenance, habitat restoration and endangered species protection on watershed lands between July 2012 and June 2013.

MMWD manages more than 21,600 acres of land on Mt. Tamalpais and in west Marin and counts on its volunteer workforce to help maintain and restore these lands. The Mt. Tamalpais Watershed is home to more than 900 species of plants and 400 species of animals, including 77 rare, threatened and endangered species. This abundance of life is threatened by many factors, including increased recreational use, invasive species and global climate change.

Begun in 1995, MMWD’s volunteer program recruits individuals, students and entire classes to help improve trails and habitat; greet and educate visitors; restore habitat and collect biological data; and map native and non-native plants, sudden oak death and aquatic species.

The 2012/13 fiscal year’s 85 volunteer events resulted in the following accomplishments:

  • Dozens of trails were improved for visitor safety and erosion control;
  • More than 700 school children and their parents removed acres of invasive broom, young Douglas-fir trees and other invasive plant species;
  • 140 hours were spent monitoring native western pond turtles and educating the public about this species;
  • More than 200 hours were donated to keep people and their dogs out of the breeding grounds of the native foothill yellow-legged frogs;
  • One third of the 900 plant species on the watershed were surveyed; samples will be housed at the herbarium of the California Academy of Sciences.

Without the help of volunteers, many of the important preservation and stewardship projects on the watershed would not be possible. For more information about our volunteer program and to find volunteer opportunities, visit our website.

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by Eric Ettlinger

This post is the second in a year-long series celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act. Read last month’s post here.

Peoples’ interest in frogs can be viewed as something of a leg obsession. The most obvious example is our insatiable appetite for frogs’ legs. During the California Gold Rush, populations of native red-legged frogs (Rana draytonii) were decimated by over-harvesting, leading to the importation of bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana) from the eastern United States to help satisfy demand. These voracious predators (bullfrogs, not people) quickly spread to anywhere year-round fresh water could be found, and they continue to eat their way through native frog populations to this day.

Our obsession with frogs’ legs is not limited to cuisine, however, and extends to the very names we’ve given them. Here in Marin County we have three native frog species: the northern Pacific treefrog (Pseudacris regilla), the California red-legged frog, and the foothill yellow-legged frog (Rana boylii). We also have California toads (Anaxyrus boreas halophilus), which aren’t technically frogs, and since they don’t fit into this essay’s theme on leg obsessions, they will not be mentioned further.

Of our real frogs, two of the three are named for their legs, which gives the impression that there’s something quite distinctive about those springy appendages. On the contrary, the red and yellow coloration for which these frogs are named is generally confined to the undersides of their legs, which few can see.

Naming these frogs for their legs fails to capture what’s truly fascinating about them. The red-legged frog is most famous for being the central character in Mark Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” Given such celebrity, wouldn’t a more fitting name be something like “Twain’s jumping frog?”

Female FYLF on cliff at Little Carson Falls. Photo by docent Peter Barto.

Female FYLF on cliff at Little Carson Falls. Photo by docent Peter Barto.

Foothill yellow-legged frogs (FYLFs) don’t have a claim to fame but can perform feats like climbing slick bedrock cliffs and clinging to rocks at the bottom of waterfalls. “Clingy frog” is more apropos and interesting, and doesn’t require an acronym.

In recent years both of these frogs have  taken on new, more ominous, labels. California red-legged frogs have been listed as a federally threatened species, and FYLFs are listed as a “species of special concern.” The reasons for their declines include predation by non-native bullfrogs, crayfish, and fish; habitat loss; pesticides; and the modification of river flows. Their plight is a small part of an unfolding global amphibian crisis, which may result in the largest extinction event since the age of dinosaurs. A significant cause of the crisis is the global spread of a deadly Chytrid fungus, although FYLFs appear resistant to Chytrid infection and the role it plays in red-legged frog declines is unknown.

Red-Legged Frog in Lagunitas Creek

Red-Legged Frog in Lagunitas Creek

In the last decade, a single red-legged frog was seen on the Marin Municipal Water District’s watershed lands. That individual likely dispersed over a ridge from Point Reyes National Seashore, where a relatively large population uses managed stock ponds (artificial ponds for cattle) for breeding.

FYLF populations on MMWD watershed lands appear to include roughly 30 breeding pairs, which breed in only two locations. One of these breeding sites is Little Carson Falls, a popular hiking destination near Pine Mountain. On warm spring days when the falls are flowing, hikers and their dogs have been known to wade in the water and inadvertently dislodge fragile egg masses clinging to the rocks. Fortunately for the frogs, volunteer “Frog Docents” also hike out to the falls, educate visitors about the plight of the frogs, and collect data for the biologists monitoring the population.

Foothill Yellow-Legged Frog at Little Carson Falls. Photo by docent Matthew Sykes.

Foothill Yellow-Legged Frog at Little Carson Falls. Photo by docent Matthew Sykes.

Now in its sixth year, the Frog Docent Program is looking for volunteers to help conserve these rare frogs. If you’d like to help save this species from possible extinction by becoming a 2013 frog docent,  call our Volunteer Program at (415) 945 -1128 or e-mail volunteerprogram@marinwater.org.

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by Ariana Chiapella

Frog training at Little Carson Falls

Volunteers gather at Little Carson Falls.

We are approaching the exciting time of year when MMWD’s Frog Docent program returns. The foothill yellow-legged frog (FYLF) is a federally listed species of “special concern,” and here in the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed we have only two remaining breeding sites for a species that is in decline throughout its range. The habitat at Little Carson Falls also happens to be a popular destination for hikers, mountain bikers and dog-walkers.

Because of this, it is vital to have enthusiastic people at the falls to educate visitors about the importance of protecting this special spot and its inhabitants. This is where our volunteers come in. They have helped MMWD educate hundreds of visitors about the FYLF, why it is important to respect and protect their habitat, and gather data that has helped professional herpetologists monitor the population of the frogs.

Foothill yellow-legged frogs in amplexus

Foothill yellow-legged frogs in amplexus. Photo by Frog Docent Matthew Sykes.

The coming season looks promising for this unique program; we have had a few good rains so far, and for those who have been out on Azalea Hill, you may already know that this means that the falls have lots of water! In my opinion, there’s no better place in the watershed to volunteer.

We will have our initial training day for Frog Docents on Saturday, March 2, from 9:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. at the Sky Oaks Ranger Station in Fairfax. We’ll start off with some refreshments and a presentation from one of the biologists who is working with the district on compiling and analyzing the data gathered by our volunteers. We’ll then hike up to see the falls. Volunteers will sign up for their weekend time slots (March-June) at Little Carson Falls through Google Calendar. This will be a great opportunity to meet like-minded nature enthusiasts, help out a species in need, be active and spend time outside—so many New Year’s resolutions packed into one!

For anyone out there who wants to band together to protect this important native frog species and form a community of wildlife stewards, this program is for you. Please tell your family, friends, coworkers and neighbors so that they can join in the fun too! We love and are always looking for new volunteers. No special skills or experience are needed, but volunteers must be 18 years or older.

If you have any questions, comments or want to sign up for our training, email us at volunteerprogram@marinwater.org or call (415) 945-1128!

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BAEER FairThe 36th annual Bay Area Environmental Education Resource (BAEER) Fair is just around the corner on Saturday, January 19, 2013. This resource-rich event is designed for teachers, community educators, students, families and all concerned about the environment we share.

Drop by MMWD’s booth for information on our free school education programs in water conservation and watershed ecology and restoration.

For those 18 or older, sign up for our Frog Docent training on March 2. The foothill yellow-legged frog is native to parts of the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed and is listed as both a federal and state species of “special concern.” MMWD needs help from the community to stop the decline and help restore a healthy population within the watershed.

For those eight years or older, sign up for our Turtle Observer training on March 23 to help us monitor and record activity of California’s only native fresh water turtle, the Western pond turtle, a federally listed “vulnerable species.” This program is great for students, families or individuals.

The BAEER Fair is from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Marin Civic Center located in San Rafael. General admission is $12.00, high school students and seniors $10.00, youth $8.00 and children 6 and under are free. Admission to the event is paid at the entrance door. Check out the BAEER website to learn more about the 2013 workshops and exhibitors, and visit MMWD’s website to discover our free water education programs for schools in our service area.

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by Michael Horwitz

foothill yellow-legged frog mating pair

Foothill yellow-legged frog mating pair (Photo courtesy of Mathew Sykes)

Hundreds of thousands of visitors come to our  watershed lands each year. Some of the most popular trails on Mt. Tamalpais are those with sweeping vistas, rugged landscapes and beautiful waterfalls. One trail, Little Carson Falls, has the winning combination of all three elements, and as a result, is one of the most frequented trails on the watershed. However, Little Carson Falls is not just a popular gathering place for people. It also holds the trifecta of cold water, slow velocity flow and abundance of cobble substrate, which makes it ideal habitat for the foothill yellow-legged frog (FYLF).  The resulting overlap of heavy foot traffic and delicate breeding habitat at Little Carson Falls could spell trouble for a species that is already in decline.

The FYLF is listed as both a federal and state Species of Special Concern. It has disappeared from more than 45 percent of its historic range in Oregon and California due to habitat loss and degradation, disease, and the introduction of exotic predators. In the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed, the breeding habitat of the foothill yellow-legged frog has been reduced from four streams to two due to heavy recreational impacts and exotic predators.

For the past eight years the Marin Municipal Water District has coordinated a Frog Docent Program that has trained volunteers to monitor conditions and be a voice for the FYLF out at the falls. Volunteer docents are asked to commit to three 4-hour shifts between mid-March and early June, when eggs and tadpoles are at their most vulnerable. This year’s docents put in over 90 hours and made contact with over 400 hikers during some of the busiest weekends in spring and early summer. These docents successfully got dogs on leashes and people away from the water by showing visitors that life exists in the falls and informing them about this special, at-risk species.

Thank you Ruthann, Peter B., Rachel, Jim, Merna, Katherine, Lorri, Peter D., Mary, Colette, Emily, Anne, Bruce and Mathew. Your enthusiasm and interest in these frogs was amazing and the district was so lucky to have volunteers like you.

For more information, see the Frog Docent Season Summary 2012 by AmeriCorps Intern Michael Horwitz.

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by Marisa Evans

foothill yellow-legged frog

Foothill yellow-legged frog (Rany boylii)

In 2005, MMWD started a docent program to raise awareness about the vulnerability of the foothill yellow-legged frog (Rana boylii) population at Little Carson Falls and to learn how visitor behavior affects the breeding success of the frogs, which are a federal and state species of “special concern” because of their declining numbers. Native to parts of the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed, the frogs breed and lay their eggs in and around the pools of the waterfalls from March through June.

After training with MMWD, individual docents make the trek to the falls (a two-mile hike off Bolinas Road from the Azalea Hill parking lot) and station themselves near the water for a five-hour shift. They greet visitors, explain why the pools are being protected, and provide scopes to view the frogs, egg masses, tadpoles and other critters using the water. They advise visitors to stay away from the pools, to keep their dogs on leash and out of the water, and to stay on the trail and behind railings to prevent disturbing the breeding frogs and their vulnerable egg masses and tadpoles. Leashed dogs are given dog biscuits as a thank you from the frogs.

Over the last five years, frog docents have contributed over 700 volunteer hours at Little Carson Falls and interacted with over 2,000 visitors. In 2010, docents made contact with 793 hikers and 80 dogs at the falls from mid-March through June. In one shift in late March, a docent reported 84 visitors!

egg mass

Egg mass of foothill yellow-legged frog

There was plenty of positive feedback from members of the public, who were happy to learn more from the dedicated volunteers about the foothill yellow-legged frog and its breeding sanctuary at the gorgeous waterfalls in west Marin.

Watershed staff and visitors greatly appreciate the volunteers’ time commitment and enthusiasm to educate; their efforts make a huge impact in minimizing the impact of hikers’ visits. Our next docent training will be in February 2011. Visit our website for more information.

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