Two dozen people were gathered in a Pierce County wetland to watch the newcomers begin their new lives.
Then more than 150 dark green and mottled frogs – rare Oregon spotted frogs – took their first leaps into the wild at the end of September.
“It was exciting to witness because there’s pleasure in watching any animal at home in nature,” said Kris Sherman, spokeswoman for Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium and Northwest Trek.
As part of a head-start program, the frogs were recovered as eggs by state Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists. They grew and matured at the Northwest Trek wildlife park and the Cedar Creek Correctional Center in Littlerock.
“We enjoy raising them, knowing that their release into the wild is helping re-establish populations of a species that’s been rapidly declining in numbers,” said Dave Meadows, an animal keeper who helps oversee the program at Northwest Trek.
Pierce County was chosen for the release because it’s near where Oregon spotted frogs lived in the past, said Lisa Hallock, a state wildlife biologist.
The head-start program aims to give the frogs a better chance at survival, by raising them from eggs, through the tadpole stage and into juvenile frogs, minimizing their chances of falling to predators before adulthood.
It will take years to determine if the program is successful, Hallock said.
“Our goal is to get enough frogs to survive to become a self-sustaining population,” she said.
Oregon spotted frogs are endangered in Washington and are threatened nationally, according to the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“They are a vital part of the ecology in the wetlands in which they live,” Sherman said. “Dwindling numbers of animals like Oregon spotted frogs can be a barometer of the health of the wetlands ecosystem.”
The frogs originally inhabited areas from southwestern British Columbia to northeastern California. Their numbers have fallen over the years because of habitat loss, disease and invasive species like the American bullfrog.
“One of the most important actions for recovering Oregon spotted frogs is to protect the wetlands where the frogs occur and to manage vegetation, especially invasive tall grasses that grow in the seasonally flooded margins of wetlands,” Hallock said.
Since the head-start program began in 2008, more than 5,000 frogs have been released.