Proposed agreement could balance Old Mill development, frogs

Video: See spotted frogs and tadpoles at the Oregon Zoo

By Dylan J. Darling / The Bulletin / @DylanJDarling

Bill Smith and the companies that own the Old Mill District are floating a plan to allow development to continue while maintaining habitat for the Oregon spotted frog.

“I think the frogs and the (Old) Mill can coexist,” Smith said. “… They have been doing it.”

The frog, which is undergoing a federal review for potential Endangered Species Act listing as a threatened species, was found living at the Old Mill in August 2012. Frogs are in the casting pond by Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe, in the marsh by Les Schwab Amphitheater and along the banks of the Deschutes River. While populations of the frog are strong around Central Oregon, the species’ wetland habitat is dwindling, prompting the potential ESA listing.

Smith, owner and developer of the Old Mill, has submitted a proposed agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Called a conservation agreement with assurances, the deal would allow development to continue at the Old Mill as long as steps are taken to conserve spotted frog habitat. Under such an agreement, landowners agree to manage their lands to remove or reduce threats to species in return for assurances from the Fish and Wildlife Service against any more restrictions, should the species be listed.

Of the 270 acres in the Old Mill, all but 40 are developed. Smith said he’d still like to eventually develop those acres. The agreement would prevent fines or jail time, the strictest of penalties under the ESA, if frogs are harmed or killed during development on the land.

The Fish and Wildlife Service, which proposed listing the frog as a threatened species in August 2013, is expected to make a decision on the frog’s status by late this summer.

Approval of the proposed agreement for the Old Mill could take a couple of months, said Nancy Gilbert, field supervisor for the Fish and Wildlife Service office in Bend. If the agency approves the agreement with William Smith Properties and other companies involved with the ownership of the Old Mill, it would be good for 20 years.

Development at the Old Mill started in 1993, and Smith said it has been good for the speckled amphibians.

“(The frogs) weren’t there when we started, and now they’re there,” Smith said. “So what we have done has been frog-friendly.”

The proposed agreement intends to make the area even more so, particularly at the casting pond. Plans include keeping water up during frog-breeding season — mid-March through mid-April — and winter, removing encroaching invasive plants and planting native plants, and installing boulders to stabilize the banks around the pond.

“The most important thing is maintaining the level of the casting pond,” Gilbert said, “so it doesn’t dry up.”

Signs would also be put up during breeding season to protect frog eggs , and temporary fencing may be set up to keep people and dogs away from the pond. The casting pond is a small, man-made body of water with foam rings in it used by flyfishermen to test their skills. It’s about 100 feet long and 65 feet wide.

The proposed agreement also calls for protection of frog habitat along the riverbank in the Old Mill and in the marsh at Les Schwab Amphitheater.

Jay Bowerman, principal researcher at the Sunriver Nature Center, is conducting an ongoing study of the frogs and is typically at the Old Mill, trying to spot frogs, at least three days a week.

He’s working on a research project to see how many frogs there are and how they are faring in different habitats . He’s been studying spotted frogs in Central Oregon for 15 years and wants to learn as much as he can about different colonies of the frogs.

A curious young boy from Bend found the first Oregon spotted frog at the Old Mill in 2012, Bowerman said.

“It came as a surprise to a lot of people when the frogs were discovered down in there,” he said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812, ddarling@bendbulletin.com

Oregon spotted frog

Scientific name: Rana pretiosa

Characteristics: Black spots cover head, back, sides and legs. Body color varies with age, the brown or olive green amphibians becoming more red as they age. Body length ranges from slightly less than 13⁄4 inches to 4 inches, with females larger than males.

Breeding: Breed at 3 years old, with breeding starting in February or March. Females drop egg masses in shallow waters, and the eggs hatch within three weeks. Tadpoles develop into froglets in their first summer.

Habitat: Almost always found in or near a perennial body of water with shallows and abundant aquatic plants. Seem to prefer fairly large, warm marshes.

Food: Other animals, mainly insects.

Reasons for decline: Habitat loss, nonnative plant invasions and introduction of exotic predators, such as bullfrogs.

Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

To comment

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is taking public comment on a proposed agreement to allow continued development at the Old Mill District as long as protections for the Oregon spotted frog are put in place. The frog is a candidate for Endangered Species Act listing as a threatened species. To see the proposed agreement, go to http://j.mp/1pt9due. Comments may be mailed to Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R1-ES-2014-N118, Division of Policy and Directives Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Dr., MS 2042-PDM, Arlington, VA 22203. Comments are due by Aug. 21.

A frog’s status

August 2012: Oregon spotted frog found living at the Old Mill.

August 2013: Species proposed for listing as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Late this summer: Decision expected on the frog’s status.