About 70 endangered frogs returned to the wild Tuesday after an infancy spent in captivity – and not just spending their days in a terrarium as field-tripping schoolkids stare at them.
Forty-four of the Oregon spotted frogs spent their first nine months of life at Cedar Creek Corrections Center in Thurston County, where inmates have been raising the amphibians since they first broke through their eggshells.
The frogs returned to their native habitat as part of a pilot project the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife began in 2007 to bring frogs to Fort Lewis, which has acres of intact wetlands where the amphibians can thrive. Frogs formerly were native to the military reservation, but none were found during population surveys in the early 1990s.
Biologists from Fish and Wildlife, Fort Lewis, the Oregon Zoo in Portland and Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle released the frogs amid a downpour near the post’s Dailman Lake.
The frogs’ eggs were plucked from the wild and “head-started” at the two zoos and the corrections center. By monitoring their growth in captivity, the frogs have a better chance of survival.
Cedar Creek is taking part in the program through a partnership between the Department of Corrections and The Evergreen State College that allows inmates a chance to participate in science-based conservation projects.
Conservation officials see the Oregon spotted frog as a key indicator for the health of warmwater marshes in the Northwest. The state declared the species endangered in 1997, and it is a candidate species for a federal endangerment listing.
The frog is native to lowland areas extending from the Canadian border to the Columbia River. Each juvenile weighs less than an ounce and will eventually grow to be 2-4 inches long. They’re brown to reddish brown in color with black spots on their backs and a bright-red or -orange tinge on their bellies.
Officials reintroduced the first batch of frogs – about 530 of the amphibians, which grew up at Northwest Trek – at Fort Lewis in September 2008. The program is expected to continue through at least 2012; state officials monitor the population by tagging some frogs with radio transmitters.
All frogs received fluorescent plastic injections under their skin, with colors identifying the animals by their age and site origin.