by Michele S. Byers, Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation
When Kermit the Frog sang “it’s not easy being green,” he never could have imagined the dire straits his fellow amphibians are in today. “Save the Frogs Day” – this April 30 – aims to raise awareness of just how tough it’s gotten for Kermit and company, and what we can do to help.
Amphibians – which includes frogs, toads and salamanders in a wide range of colors – are commuters. The often live hidden under logs and leaves in upland forests. Their ideal habitat has food, breeding and hibernation sites, but not necessarily all in one spot. On the first warm, rainy night in early spring they head en mass for ponds and vernal pools to mate and lay eggs.
But sprawling development worldwide, and especially here in the northeastern United States, is shredding amphibian habitats. Hibernation sites are cut off from breeding pools by roads that are intimidating and dangerous to critters only a few inches tall and throwing caution to the wind to answer the call of nature.
Add pollution, pesticides, herbicides, and habitat changes wrought by climate change and invasive species, and you can see that Kermit was right: it is hard being green.
Today, nearly one-third of almost 6,500 amphibian species in the world are threatened. In the past 30 years, hundreds of species have disappeared altogether. In New Jersey alone, six of 32 amphibian species are listed as threatened or endangered, with five more on the list of “Species of Special Concern” maintained by the State’s Endangered & Nongame Species Program (ENSP). But many more are in peril because their populations are declining rapidly and we humans have devoted few resources to seeking solutions.
Is a world without frogs worth croaking about? I think so!
Amphibians are leading indicators of the health of our environment. Because they absorb water and oxygen through their skin, they are indicators of pollution in the atmosphere, water and soil, as well as toxins such as immune and endocrine system disruptors. Widespread declines in amphibian populations signal a breakdown that may already be having dire implications for human health.
Amphibians are also key to the food chain. They consume algae and insects and, in turn, are prey for endangered species like New Jersey’s red-shouldered hawk. And did you know that 10 percent of the Nobel prizes awarded in physiology and medicine have resulted from research involving amphibians?
So what can you do to help? First, celebrate April 30 as the second annual “Save the Frogs Day!” The non-profit Save the Frogs organization has a wide variety of educational resources for teachers and parents. Check out www.savethefrogs.com for more details.
In New Jersey, become a “critter crossing guard.” The Conserve Wildlife Foundation, in partnership with the state and the New Jersey Audubon Society, trains volunteers to drive local roads on likely nights and look for frog and salamander crossings. They protect the amphibians as they cross, and collect observation data. Volunteers may also serve as ambassadors by educating others about amphibian populations, migration and threats to ecosystem health. For more information, visit the Conserve Wildlife website at www.conservewildlifenj.org and click on the protecting wildlife tab.
You can also help amphibians by reducing fertilizer, pesticide, herbicide and fungicide use on your lawn, and by keeping natural vegetated buffers near streams and wetlands.
Finally, develop an appreciation for amphibians in children by taking them outdoors to look for salamanders, frogs and toads! Making sure you have no insecticides on your hands, carefully lift logs and rocks, then pick up and observe the amphibians. Be sure to put the logs and rocks back exactly where they were, then carefully place the amphibians next to them.
And I hope you will consult New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, if you would like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources.
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