Breck site eyed for boreal toad recovery
BRECKENRIDGE – While amphibian species are vanishing from around the globe at an alarming rate, the Cucumber Gulch wetlands in Breckenridge could soon be an important recovery site for rare boreal toads.
After an intensive summer-long search for boreal toads in 2005, Colorado Division of Wildlife is considering an attempt to re-establish a toad population in the beaver ponds near the base of Peak 8. “Cucumber Gulch would benefit from a release,” said Tina Jackson, herptile coordinator for the state wildlife agency. The agency is hoping to release thousands of tadpoles raised in an aquatic research facility near Alamosa, but the final decision won’t be made until researchers see how well the toads at the lab are reproducing.”Most of the egg masses brought in 2001 are just now becoming mature,” Jackson said, explaining that the division needs to have a large number of tadpoles available at the lab to keep stocking the re-introduction program. A similar effort is under way on the Grand Mesa, near Grand Junction, where biologists released 12,000 tadpoles between 2003-2005 in a controlled experiment. Some of those tadpoles have matured and are returning to the release site as adult toads, Jackson. Together with releases at other sites, the state biologists have re-introduced 45,000 tadpoles and toadlets around Colorado. Part of the Grand Mesa program’s goal is to see if releasing immature toadlets, as opposed to tadpoles, makes any difference.
“That’s the real kicker up there. Will they reproduce?” Jackson said, wondering whether the toads released as tadpoles on the Grand Mesa will be able to create a breeding, self-sustaining population. The experience garnered at the Grand Mesa site and elsewhere will help set the plan for Cucumber Gulch, she added. Why Cucumber Gulch?Cucumber Gulch was deemed a suitable site for several reasons, including high water quality and protection of the site, according to Jackson. The wetlands are protected under a strict town ordinance that regulates development and human activities in the area. The survey last summer found only two adult toads during an exhaustive and methodical search of the wetlands. No breeding sites were found, leading researchers to believe that the few toads left in the Gulch are a remnant population. Also key is the fact that the two toads tested negative for the chytrid fungus, suspected as one of the main causes of amphibian mortality world-wide.
Boreal toads were once common in Cucumber Gulch and around the rest of the Southern Rockies between 7,000 and 12,000 feet, but numbers have dropped off dramatically in the last two decades. Along with the deadly chytrid fungus, which infects the sensitive skin of amphibians, scientists say that habitat loss and other environmental factors may also play a role in the decline.Summit County is some of a stronghold for boreal toads, with several known breeding sites scattered around local beaver ponds, from the Snake River Basin to the Tenmile Creek drainage.Boreal toads were listed as endangered in Colorado in 1993. The federal government was considering a listing under the Endangered Species Act but decided in September 2005 not to take that step. That decision doesn’t affect the state’s vigorous recovery effort, conservation groups would still like to a listing as a way to ensure strict protection on federal lands.More on the WebCheck the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s boreal toad page at http://wildlife.state.co.us/Research/Aquatic/BorealToad for detailed information on the state’s recovery effort. The page includes links to the boreal toad conservation plan, as well as recent status reports and a boreal toad slide show.Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at email@example.com.
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