Recovery program aims to make endangered leopard frogs common in Arizona

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June 15th, 2009

It’s been a plan long in the making, but recently, the first Chiricahua leopard frogs were released in northern Arizona waters as part of the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s new program aimed at enlisting the help of non-federal landowners to conserve this threatened species.

More than 30 frogs, including adults and tadpoles, were released into a protected pond on private property near Show Low. The frogs for this inaugural release came from a breeding stock maintained by Game and Fish that originated from the Three Forks area of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests. Biologists hope the frogs from this site will breed successfully and become a source population for stocking future waters.

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This introduction of Chiricahua leopard frogs is the first to occur as part of a new Safe Harbor Agreement. The Safe Harbor program makes it possible for private and non-federal landowners to participate in the conservation of multiple wildlife species, including endangered Gila topminnow, desert pupfish, Yaqui topminnow, and Quitobaquito pupfish by providing refuge sites.

“Chiricahua leopard frogs were once common in Arizona, but populations declined due to habitat loss, competition from non-native species and disease,” says Valerie Boyarski, amphibians and reptiles conservation planner for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “The Safe Harbor program focuses on identifying ideal sites that will contribute the most to the recovery of the species. Finding suitable natural waters, sources of frogs and the resources required to provide oversight after a release are the biggest challenges for the program, and the recovery of the species.”

Since source populations for Chiricahua leopard frogs are limited, the department must be selective when choosing locations for enrollment in the Safe Harbor Agreement. Only those locations with the highest potential to help recover this threatened species are selected as release sites.

Ideal establishment sites must contain a constant water source; be located within the historical range at the right elevations; be adjacent to federal lands that provide perennial waters; and, be free of non-native species that could prey on the frogs.

The reintroduction was carried out through a cooperative effort between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Game and Fish and the landowners. Funding assistance to prepare the site was provided by the Landowner Incentive Program, a grant program administered by Game and Fish on behalf of the Department of the Interior.

“It is rewarding to be an integral part of helping Game and Fish recover a species that was once prevalent in the state,” says George and Martha Gann, owners of the property where the frogs were released. “We had to go through a stringent process to determine if our property was suitable, but it will be worthwhile if we can help secure the future for these endangered frogs.”

The Chiricahua leopard frog is a greenish-brown frog that grows to be about 4 inches long. Until the 1970s, Chiricahua leopard frogs lived in ponds and creeks across central and southeastern Arizona, but populations have declined significantly since then due to drought, disease, habitat loss and threats from non-native species.

Chiricahua leopard frogs were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2002. A recovery team was created to help bring the species back from the brink of extinction. The team developed a recovery plan with the goal of recovering the species to the point where it can be removed from the endangered species list. The plan includes releases of captive-bred frogs, habitat restoration, and monitoring.

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