Feds look to repopulate frog species once believed to be extinct in Utah, Southwest

A photo of a relict leopard frog in the wild. The endangered species, native to Utah, Arizona and Nevada, is the focus of a 10-year reintroduction project announced Thursday.

A photo of a relict leopard frog in the wild. The endangered species, native to Utah, Arizona and Nevada, is the focus of a 10-year reintroduction project announced Thursday. (National Park Service)

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ST. GEORGE — There was a time, not terribly long ago, that biologists believed the relict leopard frog had gone extinct.

The Center for Biological Diversity notes that the species has a "dubious distinction" of being one of the first North American frogs to have been wiped off the earth. That's because they sort of disappeared after records in the 1950s until scientists found them again, around four decades later, according to the center.

There are as many as a thousand of these frogs today, which are native to the pocket of the American Southwest, where Utah, Arizona and Nevada meet. But the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service are now teaming up to increase the number of these once-elusive and still endangered amphibians.

The two agencies announced Thursday they agree on a 10-year reintroduction plan to the historic range within the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, southwest of St. George. They plan to start reintroducing the species as early as this spring and continue releasing the species until a "self-sustaining population is established," according to bureau officials.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, as well the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and Arizona, and Nevada's wildlife agencies are listed as cooperating partners in the project over the next decade.

"As a service-first unit, the BLM and NPS are proud to help this sensitive species regain ground within its historic range. The forthcoming relict leopard frog introduction and decades-long restoration efforts completed at Pakoon Springs align with the (U.S. Department of Interior's) focus on supporting collaborative, locally led and designed conservation efforts," said Brian Tritle, the acting Arizona Strip district manager for the Bureau of Land Management.

The frog species is native to the sections of Utah, Arizona and Nevada it's found in. Its range mostly follows areas by the Virgin and Colorado rivers in the three states, where it feeds in the nighttime on bugs that also call that area home.

But the little frog faced new threats in recent decades, which is why it was once prematurely believed to be extinct and still endangered. Some of that has to do with human development along its historic ranges, especially since those areas have become increasingly popular recreation destinations, the National Park Service notes.

The agency adds that another one of its biggest threats is actually another frog species: the non-native bullfrog. The bullfrog was introduced to the West in the early 20th century. By the start of the 21st century, the relict leopard frogs were only found in two areas by the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada.

The Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service began restoration work in the area of Pakoon Springs, within Arizona's Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, about two decades ago, which set the groundwork for a potential reintroduction site for the species, bureau officials said Thursday.

The hope is they will eventually spread throughout their native habitat range, where they won't be mistaken for extinct in the future.

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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com. He previously worked for the Deseret News. He is a Utah transplant by the way of Rochester, New York.


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