Building Wetlands For California Red-Legged Frogs In Eldorado National Forest

rana draytonii california red legged frog

California Red-Legged Frogs (Rana draytonii) were once abundant in California, but their numbers declined drastically in the mid-1800’s when gold miners began eating them in large quantities and their mining activities eroded hillsides and polluted the water bodies the frogs rely on. Modern day Californians negatively impact California Red-Legged Frogs by destroying the frogs’ habitats for homes, roads, timber, golf courses and shopping centers. To make matters worse, over two million live non-native American Bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana) are imported into the state each year for use as food, and the bullfrogs are voracious predators of California Red-Legged Frogs.

There is hope for the red-legged frogs however: in 2014, SAVE THE FROGS! led a successful campaign to make the California Red-Legged Frog the state’s official amphibian, and we initiated our efforts to Re-Frog America by constructing wetlands for these and other threatened amphibians.

rana draytonii california red legged frog
California’s official state amphibian, the California Red-Legged Frog (Rana draytonii)

California Red-Legged Frogs had not been known to breed in the Eldorado National Forest for many years, but one lake that borders the forest (Lake Of The Cross) was being used successfully by the frogs for breeding. As such, the Eldorado Forest Service contacted Tom Biebighauser of the Center for Wetland and Stream Restoration for his assistance in creating wetlands on the Forest Service property.

In October 2014, SAVE THE FROGS! biologists Dr. Kerry Kriger, Kathlyn Franco and Emily Moskal joined Tom, the U.S. Forest Service and the American River Conservancy as well as biologists from several other state and federal agencies, and together we created nine wetlands for California Red-Legged Frogs over the course of a week. Prior to construction, various people had stated that these wetlands would not function; however, despite a severe drought, seven of the wetlands naturally filled with water, and followup surveys found California Red-Legged Frogs using the new habitats! Our wetlands are assisting an iconic and federally-listed amphibian – this is a huge success!

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Left to right: Kathlyn Franco, Dr. Kerry Kriger, Tom Biebighauser, Emily Moskal (October 2014)

In October 2016, SAVE THE FROGS!, the U.S. Forest Service, the American River Conservancy and Tom Biebighauser returned to Eldorado National Forest to conduct more surveys and to build more wetlands. SAVE THE FROGS! invited volunteers, as one of our prime objectives is to train biologists and landowners how to build wetlands.

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SAVE THE FROGS! volunteers surveying a wetland we helped build in 2014.

red legged frog pond
In October 2016, SAVE THE FROGS! volunteers saw California Red-Legged Frogs using these wetlands that we built in 2014.

save the frogs wetland restoration
Thanks to the Amphibian & Reptile Conservancy for their financial assistance with the 2014 wetlands.

On October 3rd and 4th, 2016, SAVE THE FROGS! and our partners created two new wetlands for the California Red-Legged Frogs – and they have been successful. Maura Santora (US Forest Service Aquatic Biologist) informed us that one month after the construction, red-legged frogs were found using both of the ponds!

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Taking an elevation reading as an excavator shapes the new wetland

wetland construction
The wetland crew installing a pesticide-free liner in Eldorado National Forest, October 2016.

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Covering the pesticide free liner with geotextile to protect it.

Here’s what SAVE THE FROGS! Volunteer Mindy Meadows (who flew in from Tennessee) wrote to SAVE THE FROGS! Wetland Coordinator Kathlyn Franco after the construction event:

“It was such an amazing experience! Not only did I get to meet you and learn from you but also Leslie, Emily, Tom, Maura, Neil…so many wonderful people with so much knowledge! We learned things we didn’t even expect….like fixing the equipment road after the wetland was built. Thank you SO much for making it all happen and for saving the frogs!!”

wetland restoration
We covered the liner with soil and branches so amphibians can hide and attach egg masses.

Here is an exceptionally cool video of the entire October 3rd, 2016 wetland being built…and condensed into three-minutes:

These wetland projects are vastly important. We have successfully created wetlands that are being used by federally threatened frogs, giving them increased chance of survival, even as their habitats elsewhere are being degraded. More wetlands like these will enable their populations to rebound.

We look forward to sharing more success stories like this! If you agree that Re-Frogging America by building wetlands for threatened amphibians is important, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to SAVE THE FROGS!. In 2017, SAVE THE FROGS! Wetland Coordinator Kathlyn Franco is planning to lead the construction of seven new wetlands – and your financial support will make them possible.

kathlyn franco wetlands
SAVE THE FROGS! Wetland Coordinator Kathlyn Franco inspecting one of the Eldorado wetlands she helped construct in 2014.

A huge thank you to LUSH Fresh Handmade Cosmetics and Norcross Wildlife Foundation for contributing financially to SAVE THE FROGS! wetland efforts.

SAVE THE FROGS! regularly holds educational events online and in person to teach people like you how to build wetlands. Please be sure to fill out this short form so we can keep you posted about upcoming events and new training materials!