Going green: Frog conservation finds new HQ in Berkeley

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Predatory nonnative species, like this American bullfrog, count among the many threats to California’s native frogs. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond

For a long time, I’ve wanted to write an article on frogs for Berkeleyside. In fact, my first “kiss” came from a frog in Tilden Park. It jumped to my lips as I drank water from a fountain on a scorching-hot day at summer camp.

But that was the 1970s. Frogs were more common then. Loud throaty choruses of Pacific treefrogs kept me awake (in a good way) on spring nights, and tiny tadpoles wiggled through the algae-laden waters of a ditch along my street in Kensington.

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Pacific treefrog (Pseudacris regilla): loud native croaker and my first crush. Photo: Dr. Kerry Kriger

Over the years, my old neighborhood got quieter and quieter, like many places around the world.

Today, in fact, one-third of all frog species are threatened with extinction.


Another 200 frog species have already gone extinct, only since the 1980s. Frogs never to be seen or heard again include the gastric-brooding frogs — which appeared to give birth out of their mouths—and the gorgeous, almost-fluorescence golden toad.

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Extinction is forever and all too silent. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond

To find out more (and to glean some hope), I met with Dr. Kerry Kriger, executive director and founder of Save The Frogs!, the world’s first public charity dedicated to conserving amphibians.

Truly global in scope, Save The Frogs! has held frog-awareness events in 59 countries and educated millions of people (including schoolchildren) through its vast website and numerous pro-frog, pro-habitat programs. It has even opened a sister office in Ghana, to help save the critically endangered Togo slippery frog and giant squeaker frog.

Just a few months ago, Save The Frogs! moved its home base to Berkeley.

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Save The Frogs! Education Center is located at 2524 San Pablo Ave. near the Ecology Center, Sierra Club, and Golden Gate Audubon Society. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond

“I hear stories like yours all the time,” says Dr. Kriger. “People used to hear frogs in their neighborhoods, and now they don’t. Around here, the loss of frogs is mostly due to habitat loss and degradation.”

In California, 90 percent of historical wetlands have been lost, and the few that remain are largely at risk, according to the California Water Quality Monitoring Council.

In Berkeley, most of the natural streams run underground in culverts.

Pesticides and other toxins end up in ponds and waterways, the very places where frogs spend their most vulnerable life stages, as eggs and tadpoles.

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The foothill yellow-legged frog (Rana boylii) lives exclusively in moving water and serves as our reminder to protect California’s rivers and streams. Photo: Dr. Kerry Kriger

Even the removal of trees impacts frogs and other amphibians that rely on cool shade and deep leaf litter during the dry season.

Amphibians, after all, need both healthy water and healthy land.

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Western toads (Anaxyrus boreas) breed in water. But as adults, they generally live on the land, digging burrows in loose soil or using burrows of other animals. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond, with thanks to the Lindsay Wildlife Museum

“It comes down to respect and appreciation for habitat,” Dr. Kriger says. “Earlier this year, we designed 15 new wetlands [frog ponds] in northern California.”

The first Save The Frogs! pond-building workshops will be held this month. Anyone who is interested is welcome to participate:

  • Oct. 13: Pond digging in Ben Lomond (Santa Cruz County)
  • Oct. 14: Pond digging in Shingle Springs (El Dorado County)
  • Oct. 15-16: Wetlands presentation at Save The Frogs! (Berkeley), followed by pond digging in Fairfax (Marin County)
 “Building wetlands is a great way to educate kids,” says Dr. Kriger. Photo: courtesy of Save The Frogs!
“Building wetlands is a great way to educate kids,” says Dr. Kriger. Photo: courtesy of Save The Frogs!
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Frog ponds are designed to be shallow, 16- to 24-inches deep. That way, they will dry up each year and will not attract predatory fish or invasive bullfrogs, which have a big appetite for native frogs. Photo: courtesy of Save The Frogs!

More pond-building —“re-frogging” of California — is planned for March 2015. Locations for new frog-friendly wetlands will include schools, parks, an old tennis court, and other suitable areas in Oakland (Joaquin Miller Park), San Francisco, Redwood City, and San Juan Bautista.

Backyards make good locations, too, since ponds need not be big to attract frogs. In other words: built it, and they should leap.

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Frog ponds provide habitat for birds, dragonflies, newts (like the California newt, swimming above) — a variety of species that eat mosquitos and other insects. Photo: Elaine Miller Bond

It’s also important to protect the habitats and amphibians we still have.

So Save The Frogs! and its scientists have advocated against the use of the herbicide atrazine and in favor of protecting local wetlands and upland habitats, like those in Sharp Park and Tesla Park.

Other frog-awareness efforts include the Save The Frogs! art contest, school presentations, drumming for frogs, and large, glossy billboards in airports.

Dr. Kriger credits this imaginative approach to members and supporters who offer ideas for frog conservation. Environmentally minded people are, in fact, a primary reason why Save The Frogs! moved to Berkeley.

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Frog art contest winner — “Frog Hazards” by Kara Timmons (age 19) — with frogs “wearing” the various threats to their existence on their skin: habitat destruction, climate change, pollution, invasive species, limb malformations, and over-harvesting for the pet and food trades

Still, he says, much education needs to be done:

“Amphibians, the notion that they are even worth saving, is still foreign to most people. Frogs may as well be rats or roaches to some people — nothing against rats or roaches.”

As I listen to his words, I look at the vibrant, green art on the walls behind him, drawn and painted by frog-lovers all around the world.

I reflect on his photo collection: school children in Bangladesh, Colombia, India, and Italy holding colorful frog banners; women in Pakistan proudly showing the frog art they drew; plus the world-record photo from Texas Tech University, with 700 people wearing frogs masks at the same time.

Then I realize the true message of Save The Frogs! Simply put, the way to save frogs is to care.

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This rare beauty—the California red-legged frog (Rana draytonii)—is a “threatened” species on the federal endangered species list. We still have time to save it. Photo: Jamie Bettaso, courtesy of Save The Frogs!

Reflections on frogs

While researching this article, I received these moving words from experts at UC Berkeley:

“Our native frogs are wonderful members of our river, wet meadow, and even suburban food webs. Their charm as hopping, bug-eating, often colorful adults belies the marvel of their life history metamorphosis, as dramatic as any butterfly’s.”

— Dr. Mary Power, professor of Integrative Biology

“[Foothill yellow-legged frogs] are near and dear to my heart; I have found enough interesting things about them to fill an entire career of ecological study. … They used to be widespread in our creeks and streams, but today in our county, are only surviving in the Alameda Creek and Corral Hollow watersheds. These two populations are truly precious.”

— Dr. Sarah Kupferberg, visiting scholar and consulting ecologist

For more about frogs, hop to these helpful links:

Save The Frogs!: The website provides hundreds of pages of information — and guidance for building frog ponds —plus video “webinars” and fun local events.

AmphibiaWeb: Founded and administered by UC Berkeley.

Elaine Miller Bond is the photographer for the book, The Utah Prairie Dog: Life Among the Red Rocks, which is just now being published by the University of Utah Press. She is also the author of Dream Affimals: Affirmations + Animals (Sunstone Press, 2013) and Affimals (LIT Verlag, 2009).

A small exhibition of Bond’s work, “To Fly,” opens Oct. 16 at FOUND at 4125 Piedmont Ave. (near 41st St.) and runs for one month.

Related:
All aflutter: Berkeley insect lovers celebrate 40th year counting butterflies (07.24.14)
Friends in high places: Peregrine falcons soar above us (04.29.14)
Counting crows: Why are there so many in Berkeley? (03.28.14)
Darlings not Draculas: The bats that live in Berkeley (12.23.13)
In a Berkeley park a bluebird displays unusual behavior (08.05.13)
Lynxes of the bird world: Cooper’s hawks nest in Berkeley (04.18.13)
The mystery and thrill: Shorebirds enjoy winter in Berkeley (03.21.13)
Sitting on the dock of the bay: Birds throng Berkeley pier 02.28.13)
Rare bluebird sightings bring happiness in a Berkeley park (08.07.12)
In Tilden Park’s Jewel Lake: Spotting a rare river otter (04.05.12)
Up close with Berkeley’s wildlife at Tilden Regional Park (03.06.12)

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