by Marisa Evans
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!
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.