By Sadie Gilliom, SPP Graduate Research Assistant
On a drizzly September morning, a diverse team of professionals gathered at a wetland in Pierce County. Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) representatives were part of the group that also included staff from Northwest Trek Wildlife Park (Northwest Trek), the Center for Natural Lands Management, and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). The 153 state-endangered and federally-threatened Oregon spotted frogs (Rana pretiosa) pop-corning in tubs in the middle of the group were the focus of attention, it was release day!
The frogs were released into their natural habitat with the hope of boosting the population of this struggling species. Sixty-four were reared by SPP inmate technicians at Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) while the remaining frogs were reared by zoo professionals at Northwest Trek. Late winter, biologists from WDFW gathered eggs from the wild and delivered them to the facilities where they were raised with protection from predation, disease, and habitat disturbance. Over the spring and summer the tadpoles hatched and developed into frogs under the care of zoo staff and inmate technicians.
The frogs seemed to anticipate their release. They jumped excitedly in their containers as they were carried down to the site. As the team gathered at the edge of the wetland, the sun broke through the clouds, as though to wish the frogs good luck on their journey into the wild. The frogs were released with time to adapt to their natural environment before the chill of winter sets in.
The release was an opportunity to enjoy the results of everyone’s hard work, coordination, and collaboration over the rearing season. The first frogs were released by SPP Liaison and CCCC Classification Counselor, Ms. Sibley. She popped the lid off the tub and the frogs sprang into the water. Most were gone in a flash, but a few were hesitant, staring at their new world for several minutes before springing into action. Throughout the release there were shouts of glee, handshakes, and smiles as all the frogs eventually hopped to freedom.
It is important to acknowledge a few of the people that helped make this season successful. Thank you Fiona Edwards! Fiona completed her term as SPP’s Frog and Turtle Program Coordinator this season and trained me to take on the responsibilities of the position. I also want to acknowledge Classification Counselors Pickard and Sibley for the time and effort they invested to make the program possible at CCCC. As Mr. Pickard recently accepted a new job, Ms. Sibley capably stepped into the DOC Liaison role. We wish Mr. Pickard well in his new position and appreciate his contributions. A huge thank you to Mr. Nuss, the inmate technician working throughout the season to provide the excellent care that resulted in healthy and robust frogs on release day. Finally, thanks to Superintendent Cole for his continued, passionate support for the program.
There are many other partners that help make the SPP frog program possible: Northwest Trek Wildlife Park, Woodland Park Zoo; Marc Hayes, Tammy Schmidt, and other staff at WDFW; SPP staff and leadership; and the many others who have contributed to the effort to save this valuable indicator species! Good luck Oregon spotted frogs of 2014! We wish you a successful and prolific future!