We were happy to learn that a few days ago the California Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to designate two species of native yellow legged frogs inhabiting high-elevation lakes in the Sierra Nevada and Southern California mountain ranges as threatened and endangered species under the state’s Endangered Species Act. The commission acted after the Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition outlining the decline.
photo courtesy National Park Service. Department of the Interior
According to the Center, the population of Sierra Yellow legged frogs has decreased by 75% in recent decades. Reading about these frogs, we were struck by how they are a symbol of the challenges that frogs face worldwide. But they aren’t facing one challenge—they seem to be facing almost all of them:
Introduction of nonnative species: Stocking of nonnative trout in high-elevation Sierra lakes has been the main cause of the species’ decline. The trout eat tadpoles and juvenile frogs and alter the food web of the aquatic ecosystems on which the native frogs depend. The Department is recommending no trout stocking in the state without a fish management plan, and no further stocking of trout in areas that would conflict with protecting yellow-legged frogs.
Pesticides: Recent research has linked pesticides that drift from agricultural areas in the Central Valley to declines of native amphibians in the Sierra Nevada. Pesticides and other pollutants can directly kill frogs and also act as environmental stressors that render amphibians more susceptible to diseases, including a chytrid fungus that has recently ravaged many yellow-legged frog populations.
Loss and degradation of habitat: Grazing, logging, water diversions, off-road vehicles and recreational activity are allowed in frog habitat.
Climate change: Climate change has brought warmer temperatures, decreases in runoff, shifts in winter precipitation in the Sierra from snow to rain, and habitat changes that are rendering frog populations more vulnerable to drought-related extinction events.
A recent settlement agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity, which will also speed protection decisions for 756 other species, requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2013 to make a decision about whether to add the Sierra frog to the federal endangered list.
We were happy to receive a guest post from Alicia Moore about how to teach children about amphibians. Alicia has always loved to learn and is working toward earning a teaching degree. She is particularly interested in how the advent of the Internet and technology are changing the educational landscape. When she is not exploring the future of education, Alicia enjoys writing about literature, languages, and online resources for teachers.
While it may sound surprising, the greatest threat to any animal on the planet is mankind. Humans are perched solidly at the top of the food chain, and our nation’s youth must understand the incredible responsibility that comes with that power. This responsibility, however, doesn’t end at protecting magnificent animals like tigers and whooping cranes. Even little creatures like amphibians are worthy of our help. Luckily, you can easily teach kids about endangered or threatened frogs and amphibians by talking openly with your students about the threats frogs face and what can be done to help them.
According to the National Wildlife Federation, nearly thirty percent of all the amphibians in the world are facing extinction. Many frogs species live in the United States, and you can easily teach your students about the choices made by man that have resulted in the near destruction of these animals. You can also discuss the fact that the damage has not always been intentional, making it even more important for people to carefully consider the full consequences of their choices on the environment.
One example is the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog, which has seen a 90 percent drop in numbers in recent years. Part of the problem has been pesticides that wash in from surrounding farms and private properties. Suggesting that people quit using chemicals on their yards may land you in trouble with parents, but you can safely mention that there are environmentally-friendly options available for lawn care. Another issue harming the Sierra Nevada frog is the introduction of non-native trout to the lakes these frogs once called home. As the trout population has exploded, the frog population has plummeted. This provides your students with a clear example of why critters from one area should not be moved to another.
Sierra Nevada Yellow-legged frog, Courtesy of UC Berkeley, www.crcd.org
Another is the dusky gopher frog, which could once be found along the Gulf Coast from Alabama to Louisiana. Over the years, this frog’s territory range has decreased so much that it is now only found in a few breeding ponds located in southern Mississippi. The biggest challenge faced by these frogs is that they depend on the burrows created by gopher tortoises to survive, but these animals are also an endangered species. Thus, these frogs serve as a prime example of the circle of life, cascading results, and unintended consequences. As one seemingly insignificant animal is driven to extinction, another animal that depended on it will also perish.
Gopher frog, courtesy of Tennessee Watchable Wildlife, tnwatchablewildlife.org
There are also a few success stories among the endangered species of amphibians. The National Wildlife Foundation reports that the Amargosa toad is one such example. The Amargosa toad depends on springs and ponds in the Oasis Valley of Nevada. Most of these highly valued water resources are privately owned, a fact that could severely hamper conservation efforts. However, landowners in the region have willingly worked with wildlife agencies to preserve or create and maintain the toads’ habitats. The partnership has resulted in positive results for the toad, and the realization that private owners and conservation groups can work hand-in-hand to prevent the extinction of animals. This is a valuable lesson for students, as it teaches them to find ways to work together for the greater good and the benefit of creatures who are at man’s mercy.
Amargosa toad, courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
These are just a few examples that you can use to teach students in the classroom about amphibians and the importance of protecting them. These critters are all native to different regions of the United States, and you can find wonderful pictures of them at the National Wildlife Federation’s website. The lessons can easily focus on habitat protection, not moving animals from one environment to another and finding ways to work as a team to help the animals.
Keep in mind that it may be hard for your students to understand why frogs matter in the beginning. There may be many jokes about how slimy they are, and depending on the grade level, there may even be jokes about having frog legs for dinner. As a result, you must be prepared to teach your students about the importance of frogs and amphibians. You can find a variety of lesson plans and materials online, such as this one: Frog Unit Study: Hopping to Learn. Likewise, The Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project is another excellent resource that can help you explain the importance of frogs to your students.
If your students would like to get actively involved, you can provide them with an opportunity to do so as a class. In fact, PBS even has a website, Give and Get Back!, dedicated to volunteering and offering suggestions for how children can get more involved and make a difference. This site can help you and your students turn the concept of volunteering and making a difference into a concrete reality.
The first step in educating students about endangered amphibians is to show them the pictures available online and talk to them about why the creatures are now struggling to survive. It’s important to connect the dots between the actions of man and the unintentional habitat destruction that can result. It’s important for children to know how different actions by humans could have resulted in a more favorable outcome for the creatures.