Farewell Frogs!

By Graduate Research Associate Jill Cooper

Releasing frogs at Joint Base Lewis-McChord

It has been another successful season rearing Oregon Spotted Frogs at Cedar Creek Correction Center.  A total of 1,346 were released into a wetland site on Joint-Base Lewis-McChord.  The four rearing institutions (Oregon Zoo, Woodland Park Zoo, Northwest Trek, and Cedar Creek Corrections Center) came together to release this year’s batch of frogs into the wild; a collaborative effort to stabilize the native populations.

The Sustainable Prisons Project has been working with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Cedar Creek Correction Center (CCCC) to raise endangered Oregon Spotted Frogs since 2009. CCCC boasts having the largest frogs of any participating rearing institution, with100% of this year’s frogs large enough for release into the wild.

CCCC’s rearing success can be attributed to the amount of time and attention the offenders are able to give the frogs.  The offenders form genuine bonds with the frogs; some are given names, like “Lefty” or “NASCAR.”  The few deceased frogs have been placed in an offender-created “frog cemetery,” with hand-made gravestones.  One of the inmates patiently waits with his hand in the frog pond, and frogs will often come sit in his hand to be pet.

Cedar Creek Frog Maintenance

The day of the release, the frogs were loaded into containers and driven north to Joint-Base Lewis-McChord and their new home. CCCC is a minimum security pre-release facility, sometimes referred to as “camp,” where offenders are sent with minimal time remaining on their sentence. For participating offenders, the release of the frogs in part symbolizes their own impending release back into society.

Superintendent Doug Cole and Classification Counselor Marko Anderson of CCCC along with SPP Student Research Associates Liesl Plomski and Jill Cooper had the opportunity to release some of the frogs.  “It was a sight to see all 1,346 frogs hop into the water and instantly disappear with their well camouflaged bodies,” said Cooper.

Red coloration indicates healthy growth

Each frog has a micro-chip and will be tracked by volunteers who regularly visit the wetlands to conduct research, using special wands that detect the frogs’ signals.

At the conclusion of the release, 29 of the frog “runts” from other institutions were taken back to CCCC because they were not large enough to be released.  These frogs will be nurtured during the winter and released in the spring.  One offender says that this new batch of frogs is, “more skittish than the last;” hardly any of the frogs come sit in his hand.  Nevertheless, they are rapidly growing.  In just the past few weeks, the frogs have gained weight and are already beginning to show some red coloration. With another successful year of frog-rearing logged, the future looks bright for the Cedar Creek frog team.


  1. karen

    I just finished watching the PBS NewsHour segment from December 3rd on this program and the other aspects of the Evergreen College partnership with the Cedar Creek facility. I was a Public Defender for nine years and continued to represent indigent defendants on appeal in private practice. Let me tell you that I have not seen any other program like this one and I cannot say enough good about it. If there were more programs like this throughout the nation’s corrections facilities, they really would stand for corrections. As it is now, they are punitive institutions without much prospect of preparing anyone to socialize in the outside world. Being released is often a shock and difficult to navigate for many. I also appreciated the perspective that inmates are learning not only about science, but the discourse of science and the practices that go with it, including collaborative thinking and collaborative work. I wish you well! and I’d love to see a blog entry that highlights the PBS News Hour footage. It was educational and fantastic PR for your program, and maybe a catalyst for new grants.

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  2. karen

    I guess there is one other thing I would add: It seems to me the guys who are making this program a success are the inmates. Congratulations to all of them, and to the Evergreen College faculty and students with whom they work. PS – would you take your project to Arizona?!

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  3. Chris

    Wow! What an amazing program! That part about the release of the frogs back into the wild representing the inmates own impending release back into society made me feel like crying. Excellent work, congratulations, I really hope you can keep it up, keep writing those grant proposals!

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