Rancher's kids discover "Twain's frog" in Calaveras County(A)
California red-legged frogs – immortalized as Mark Twain’s “Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” – have been discovered on a privately-owned cattle ranch in western Calaveras County. Although the population is small, the find is significant as this is the first confirmed presence of the frog that was thought to no longer exist in the county it made famous. A rancher’s young children discovered the frogs while playing near one of the many water holes that provide for the ranch’s cattle.
“Its been a real thrill for all of us – not just the kids – to have the only known population of Mark Twain’s frog in the county living on our property,” said Danny the rancher. “We’ve decided as a family that we want to do all we can do to try and help save this frog.” The last name of the family was not disclosed publicly in an effort to discourage people from trying to locate the ranch with an eye towards viewing the frogs.
The California red-legged frog was listed as a “Threatened” species under the US Endangered Species Act in 1996, and was last sighted in Calaveras County in 1969. It is mostly hanging on in isolated watersheds along the California coast, and is found in only a few remaining locations in the Sierra Nevada. The most significant threats to the long-term survival of the frog include habitat loss and conversion, and predation from non-native species.
Dr Robert Stack of the Calaveras-based Jumping Frog Research Institute (JFRI) was the first to positively identify the frogs as direct descendants of “Dan’l Webster” – Twain’s fictional frog – after the family invited him out to their ranch in early October. Stack’s identification was subsequently confirmed by a biologist from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in a survey conducted the evening of October 21.
“At the invitation of the family, we’re putting together a team of biologists to make recommendations on how to save the frog while we work to maintain the economic viability of their ranch,” Stack declared. “It is our responsibility as biologists and representatives of governmental agencies to respect the wishes and rights of this family as we move forward in trying to do right by Mark Twain’s beloved frog.”The exact location of the ranch, in the western portion of the county, was also not disclosed. “We really want to discourage visitation to help preserve the sensitive habitat for the frog,” said California Dept of Fish and Game biologist Stafford Lehr. “Plus, people should respect the fact that all of the frogs are located on private property, and any effort to find them would involve trespassing.”
Lucy Thein, Calaveras County Supervisor in whose district the rancher resides, said she too was “thrilled” with news of the discovery. “It is my hope that we can make this news something very positive for the County, the family, and of course, the frog.”
Asked about the possibility of potential conflicts between his cattle and the frog, Danny was quick to offer his opinion, “Cows have grazed this ranch for 150 years. They must get along with this frog to some degree or the frogs wouldn’t still be here.”
Dr Eric Thomas, an Associate Professor of Biology at University of the Pacific in Stockton, agreed noting that, “Significant red-legged frog populations are located on working ranches in the East Bay and Marin County. Some ranching practices are not as frog-friendly as others, but obviously this family has been good stewards of their land. More importantly, they want to remain so.”
Dr Thomas is among the group of scientists who will weigh in with advice on how to best balance a rancher’s need to make a living with his desire to be a good steward. Dr Thomas continued, “All of us are committed to finding solutions. Ranches are obviously a vital part of our food production industry. But they also provide much-needed open space and safe habitat for frogs and other wildlife, especially when managed properly.”
“After seeing the joy on my children’s faces, I’ve come to understand that this is really all about making sure these frogs are around in the future to pass on to our kids as part of the ranch,” said the rancher’s wife Norma. “Dr Stack and JFRI have really helped us sort through the many different issues and deal with all the governmental agencies.”
Meanwhile the real discoverers of the frog, Beau, age 6, and Haylie, aged 10, had something they wanted to say to the citizens of Calaveras County and the whole world: “Please help us save our frogs,” said Beau. “They are really cool!” added Haylie.