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The C.A.S.H. Courier

ARTICLE from the Summer 2008 Issue

The Insanity Of Hunting Already Severely Threatened Frogs

BY E.M. FAY

Amphibians have permeable skin. That feature makes them especially vulnerable to their environment. Because amphibians generally experience both an aquatic life stage in their infancy, and a terrestrial life stage in adulthood, they are exposed to pollution both in water and on land. Any changes in their surroundings can easily penetrate their delicate skin tissue and have a more immediate effect upon their bodies’ organs and systems than might be experienced by tougher-skinned animals.

Worldwide, scientists have noted a precipitous decline in the numbers of frogs and other amphibians. Some of this is due to the destruction or over-use of their habitats by human beings – notably the decimation of rainforests in South and Central America, where many frog species formerly thrived and some are now extinct. The introduction of a new predatory species to an ecosystem can also cause a decline.

A particularly significant factor in the stressed health and subsequent disappearance of amphibians is the contamination of their environment by chemicals. To take just one example, atrazine, a commonly used herbicide, changes the reproductive organs of male frogs, rendering them hermaphroditic. Many mutant frogs have resulted from the runoff of chemicals into ponds; frogs with extra limbs growing from their bodies, or missing and even no limbs, have been found in most of the United States. Naturally, they do not live long or reproduce as healthy frogs would.

Contaminated water, ultraviolet radiation caused by our depleted ozone layer, and a deadly fungus are some other fatal problems for the amphibian populations posited by researchers. Even stocking ponds with fish can kill off a local frog colony, as the unnaturally increased number of fish or a non-native “introduced” fish will eat the frogs’ eggs.

Although the decrease in amphibian populations was noted in the US and Australia as early as the 1970s, a general alarm about the widespread nature of the problem was initially expressed by scientists at the First World Congress of Herpetology, held in 1989.

Since then, many studies have been conducted, and by 2004, it was determined that 427 species of frog are Critically Endangered, i.e., on the brink of extinction. Since 1980 alone, 9 species have become officially extinct. 113 other species are thought to be extinct, also, but more extensive fieldwork is necessary to establish this officially.

Given the perilous state of amphibians in the world today, one would think that every possible step would be taken to preserve the existence and health of all the members of the frog, toad, salamander, and newt families we find in our local areas, no matter where we live.

Running completely contrary to this principle, then, is the promotion by state officials and others of the hunting of frogs.

Yet this is just what is happening. Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Missouri, Mississippi, and the Carolinas are some of the states where frog hunting is legal. But it isn’t just the rural South. States as disparate as Oregon and Oklahoma permit it, as well. In New York State, frog hunting is allowed from June 15 – September 30, sunrise to sunset. Even more shocking is the fact that there is no “bag limit,” according to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation website.

Demonstrating the mindset of at least some people who hunt frogs, Jeff Finley writes in the Missouri Department of Conservation magazine, Missouri Conservationist, about the so-called sport that he “affectionately” calls “froggin’.” Waxing rhapsodic, he asks, “What would a Missouri summer be without a good old-fashioned frog hunt?”

Extolling the nostalgic memories that he says many older folks retain for frog hunting, the writer recommends that kids join in with adults on nocturnal bullfrog-hunting expeditions.

Frogs make delicious treats, he asserts. In common with many hunters, he juxtaposes the notion of an alleged love of nature with the incongruous enjoyment of killing living creatures.

There are many recommended methods for hunting frogs, including barbed spears, longbows, crossbows, firearms, pellet guns, and nets. A plethora of killing methods for such placid, harmless beings!

Making a comment on the no bag limit in New York State, a biology professor from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry said he had personally witnessed two men killing hundreds of northern leopard frogs in one pond at the Three Rivers Wildlife Management Area in Baldwinsville.

Most, if not all, directors of state “conservation” entities, the people at the top who set the agenda, are either themselves hunters or are politically aligned with hunters, and therefore scarcely sympathetic to the lives of the animals they pretend to protect. Indeed, the very names of some state agencies – “Department of Environmental Conservation,” “Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission” – are a bad joke.

But even beyond the obvious humane aspect of curtailing the hunting of frogs and toads, the preservation of delicate ecosystems should be of concern to all American citizens, their elected and/or appointed representatives. Biodiversity requires the naturally balanced presence of all animal species.

Each has a unique part to play in the general health of the planet, such as the way tadpoles help keep wetlands in balance by eating algae. Like some now-endangered bat populations, frogs and toads eat considerable quantities of insects. As frogs vanish, so will the many birds, snakes, fish, and mammals that depend on them for sustenance; and without frogs we can expect a subsequent rise in troublesome insect populations.

An irrevocable chain of events is put into effect whenever a species disappears. Although such visionary scientists as Rachel Carson and Jacques Cousteau warned of this phenomenon half a century ago, the general populace needs to recognize the danger and act accordingly to save what is left of every endangered animal population.

While it is true that global warming, habitat loss, pollution, and general human interference are causing the extinction and near-extinction of many animal species, amphibians are under more immediate threat and are vanishing more quickly than most birds and mammals.

As Science magazine observes, “The lack of conservation remedies for these poorly understood declines means that hundreds of amphibian species now face extinction.”

http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/306/5702/1783

NYS DEC Biologist Gordon Batcheller informed me that the DEC is “certainly aware of the…status of frogs and toads worldwide, in the United States, and in New York.”

However, he went on to note that “In practical terms, the species that is widely hunted is the bullfrog. Bullfrogs are abundant and widespread throughout New York and we don’t have any evidence that their populations are in decline.

A fairly small number of people hunt bullfrogs.” And yet that “small number of people” can do out-sized damage, witness the anecdote about leopard frogs above.

Despite the assertion that bullfrogs are the only species widely hunted, another DEC official listed over a dozen species that may be taken legally. Among these were Northern peepers, wood frogs, mink frogs, leopard frogs, spadefoot toads, green tree frogs, cricket frogs, and northern frogs.

Mr. Batcheller stated that, “With the possible exception of green frogs, I don’t think the other species are in fact pursued by hunters. I think green frogs may occasionally be taken by people who are primarily hunting bullfrogs.” He concluded that people consider bullfrogs an “excellent wild food.” Even if there really isn’t a market for frogs’ legs in the US comparable to that in France, the dangerously declining health of the ecosystem simply cannot afford to lose so many amphibians.

Asked why he blogs about frogs, frog aficionado Jeff Davis wrote this: “Amphibians are the canaries in the coal mine, medical marvels, and innocent creatures. They face the most significant mass extinction since the dinosaurs. The main reason they will disappear is because we will choose to allow it.”

C.A.S.H. recognizes that each frog is an individual treasure. Concern for the individual animal is what distinguishes us from the “conservationists” and the “environmentalists.” Frog hunting should be illegal merely because individual frogs have a life to live that is important to them and to those who care.

An interesting website with information about how to save frogs is: http://frogmatters.wordpress.com/

E.M. Fay is Associate Editor of the Wildlife Watch Binocular and a reporter on environmental matters.

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