Oregon spotted frog to be listed as threatened

Government official and an amphibian expert don’t expect a huge effect in Central Oregon on industry or development.

By Dylan J. Darling / The Bulletin / @DylanJDarling

The Oregon spotted frog is going to be a threatened species, listed for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.

However, a local government official and an amphibian expert don’t expect a huge effect in Central Oregon on industry or development.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday announced the listing of the frog, which is found in Central Oregon. The frog range used to stretch from southwestern British Columbia through the Cascades to far Northern California. Federal scientists estimate the frog is gone from up to 90 percent of its range, and it’s no longer found in the Willamette Valley and California. The listing is set to go into the Federal Registry today and become official 30 days later, at the end of September.

“This unique and highly aquatic frog was once common in the Pacific Northwest and its decline signals degradation in the health of natural areas that provide for people as well as fish and wildlife,” Tom McDowell, acting supervisor for the Washington Fish and Wildlife Office said in a Thursday news release.

Central Oregon is home to the single largest population of Oregon spotted frogs in the state. Big Marsh southwest of La Pine has at least 5,300 breeding adult frogs, as calculated by scientists following a 2012 survey, said Nancy Gilbert, field supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Bend office. Surveys in 2011 determined there were at least 12,850 breeding adult frogs in all of Oregon.

Changes in water temperature, intrusion by bullfrogs and simply losing places to live have all contributed to the decline of the frog around the Northwest. “It’s mostly habitat loss and degradation,” Gilbert said.

Fish and Wildlife Service scientists determined the amphibian warranted listing for protection in 1993, but in the two decades since, other species took precedence. Before the agency lists a species it conducts an extensive review.

A lawsuit by environmental groups prompted the service to finally review the Oregon spotted frog. In May 2011 the agency settled with New Mexico-based Wild Earth Guardians and Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity, agreeing to review species whose listing had been in limbo for years. The Fish and Wildlife Service began its review of the Oregon spotted frog in August 2013.

Thursday was a day to celebrate for Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity in Portland.

“We’re glad Oregon spotted frogs are finally getting the protection they need to survive,” he said.

Federal listings of animals can cripple development and industry relying on their habitat — such as the notable impact the threatened species listing of the spotted owl in 1990 had on the Northwest timber industry. But a frog researcher and a Deschutes County planner said they didn’t expect the listing of the spotted frog to have a ripple effect.

“They only live in wetlands and wetlands already have a high level of protection,” said Jay Bowerman, principal researcher at the Sunriver Nature Center & Observatory. He said there is little chance of land use changes coming from the listing.

Peter Gutowsky, principal planner for Deschutes County, agreed. Oregon spotted frog habitat in the county is mainly in wetlands along the Deschutes and Little Deschutes rivers.

“Really this is an area that doesn’t see development,” he said.

One place where the frog is found and where there are plans for development is the Old Mill District in Bend. The frog was first discovered there in August 2012. Bill Smith, one of the owners of the district, and the companies that own the Old Mill, have proposed an agreement with the Fish and Wildlife Service allowing for protections of the frog while ensuring development continues at the Old Mill. The frogs there are mainly found in the casting pond by Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe and marshland by the Les Schwab Amphitheater.

“I think the frogs and the (Old) Mill can co-exist,” Smith said in a July 28 Bulletin article.

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

Reporter’s note: This article has been corrected. A previous version gave the incorrect number of Oregon spotted frogs at Big Marsh southwest of La Pine and for all of Oregon. The original location given for Big Marsh was also inaccurate. The Bulletin regrets the errors.

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