By Betsy Herbert
Santa Cruz Sentinel
Posted: 11/16/12, 12:00 AM PST
Ecologist Kerry Kriger -- founder and director of the nonprofit Save the Frogs! -- is leading an international campaign to reverse the unprecedented and worldwide decline of frogs and other amphibians including toads, newts and salamanders.
"Frogs and other amphibians are the most threatened group of animals on the planet," said Kriger, who believes the trend can be reversed if people get involved and take action.
Founded in 2008 and headquartered in Santa Cruz since 2010, Save the Frogs! works to translate science into action from the local to the global level. The group's website (www.savethefrogs.com) is a great place to learn about frogs, their importance to the health of the planet, primary threats to their existence, and actions -- both big and small -- that are needed to save them.
Kriger knows his frogs. He has a doctorate in environmental science and a long list of peer-reviewed articles about amphibians. But Kriger's approach to saving frogs goes well beyond science. He uses art, poetry, music, social networking and eco-tours to increase public awareness of the threats facing frogs. He is now working on the fifth annual Save the Frogs Day in April 2013, with 200-plus events in 39 countries to draw attention to the plight of frogs.
Kriger explains a few of the benefits that frogs provide. They eat billions of ticks and mosquitoes that carry diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, and West Nile virus. Frog tadpoles help keep water clean by eating algae. If frogs were to vanish, many other species that depend on them as a food source would be in trouble, he says.
What are the primary global threats to frogs? They include habitat destruction, infectious disease, pesticides, the international food and pet trade, invasive species, and climate change. Millions of frogs are taken out of the wild every year for sale as pets and as food. France, Belgium and the USA are the biggest importers, with California importing more than any other state, and with San Francisco being a leading consumer of frog legs.
Most frogs are wild caught, but American bullfrogs are farmed in China, Taiwan, and Brazil, says Kriger. A large percentage of imported frogs carry the parasitic chytrid fungus, which has infected many frog species to the point of extinction.
Pesticides are also a big problem for frogs, which spend part of their life in the water, where many pesticides end up. Frogs have permeable skin that absorbs pesticides, which can cause physical deformities.
While Save the Frogs! works at the state, national, and international levels (there is a second office in Ghana), Kriger also seeks to engage local support for saving frogs. Santa Cruz County is home to the federally endangered Santa Cruz long-toed salamander, and the federally threatened red-legged frog.
"Santa Cruz is definitely not a frog sanctuary. Frogs here face many threats, especially on the ocean side of Highway 1, where there's lots of housing development and agriculture," Kriger says. He notes that "the agricultural areas in the southern half of the county are bad areas for frogs because of all the pesticides and because the habitat is so degraded and unnatural."
Kriger praises both the Santa Cruz City Council and county Board of Supervisors for unanimously passing ordinances banning the import of the non-native American bullfrog, which eats native frogs. "This sets a precedent for other counties," he says, but, "what is really needed is a state ban on importing all non-native frogs."
Kriger says the county riparian ordinance should be strengthened so that more riparian habitat is protected. Save the Frogs! also encourages local home owners to build frog ponds. Visit www.savethefrogs.com.