Save Land and Save Frogs with the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust

by Sim Barrow

It is just after sunset as I make my way through the dense grass and shallow pools at Wilson Springs Preserve in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  The thunderstorms from earlier in the day have subsided, and the horizon glows with the remaining light of the day.  With clipboard and pencil in hand, I stop at the edge of an embankment and wait. After a few minutes, the relative quiet is interrupted by a chorus of leopard frogs, American toads and spring peepers.  These are the sounds that drew me to the site, and are the reason for my evening visit to the Preserve.

Frog and toad activity at Wilson Springs Preserve is no small matter for the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust. Protecting wildlife habitat is one of our highest priorities in our work to conserve the natural landscapes of our region.  Whether through conservation easements or by receiving land as a donation, we ensure that those lands will continue to serve as a place for wildlife forever, even as the human population grows.

Of course, seeing the land preserved is just the beginning. With each conserved property we commit to the ongoing stewardship of the land, which includes biomonitoring, or the tracking of native plant and animal species like frogs and toads. The information we gain from biomonitoring is used to inform land management practices like restoration activities and invasive plant removal. It also serves as an indicator of the overall health of the habitat. Because frogs and toads are such great indicator species, it makes sense for the land trust to specifically monitor for them.

For this reason, we are excited to integrate the FrogWatch USA frog monitoring program into our biomonitoring plan.  Citizen-science programs are an excellent way to engage with the community and help people enjoy and appreciate the outdoors. It is also a helpful resource for nonprofits like the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust that have limited staff capacity.  We look forward to recruiting and training new FrogWatch volunteers in 2017 to help us monitor frogs and toads on some of our properties.  It’s also a great opportunity for current volunteers to explore new areas and support local conservation efforts.

Join me and the other NWA Chapter Coordinators this February 25 from 1pm-6pm for the first FrogWatch training workshop of the year. The workshop will be held at the Historic Ozark Mountain Smokehouse (1725 Smokehouse Trail Fayetteville, AR 72701). There will be a special trip to our Wilson Springs Preserve following the workshop, where we will practice the skills taught in the training. We may even hear crawfish frogs making their characteristic “snoring” sound! Contact [email protected] to register for the training.

With your help, we can all protect habitat for frogs and toads in Northwest Arkansas. Thank you, volunteers, for your commitment to frog and toad conservation!

Master Gardeners can help Frogs

Attention Gardeners (Master and otherwise)

Peg and I recently talked to Master Gardeners at the annual state meeting held in Eureka Springs.  All Gardeners can do a lot to help save the Earth’s biodiversity and frogs and toads in particular.  Over 40% of the world’s amphibians are currently at risk of extinction due, in part, to pollution.

Actions Master Gardeners and others can take

  • Plant natives - avoid imported plants which may out-compete local species and become invasive.  In addition, pollinators may be disrupted by the imports.  Native species will thrive with less care than imports.  One invasive to avoid is Bradford Pear Trees.
  • Avoid Chemicals - Pesticides, Herbicides, and chemical Fertilizers all end up washing downstream into rivers and eventually the Gulf of Mexico.  Every year there is a 5,000 square mile dead zone along the shorelines of Louisiana and Texas from gardener’s use of chemicals that wash down the Mississippi River.  Frogs and toads like fresh water environments!  This website has natural alternatives for weed and bug control:
  • Build a Pond - “If you build it, they will come.”  There are lots of good articles on the internet for building a frog pond.  Check out  Frogs and toads will find your pond in short order.  The tadpoles will eat any algae buildup and the adults will eat any mosquito larvae.
  • Place a Toad House -  You can get a fancy one as pictured or just turn over an old terracotta pot and knock out an entrance.  Your toad will stay there during the day and may hibernate there in the winter.  Be sure to place your “toad abode” under some shady foliage and make sure the bottom is open so Mr. Toad can absorb moisture through his stomach in contact with the ground.

Gardeners and Master Gardeners can have a direct impact on whether frogs and toads make it through the current mass extinction by making intelligent choices in their gardening practices.

The Sixth Mass Extinction

The Sixth Mass Extinction

There have been five mass extinctions in the last 500 million years - the last one being the Late Cretaceous extinction 65 million years ago that wiped out the dinosaurs.  Most biologists think we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction that could wipe out over half of all existing plant and animal species by 2100.

How can we save Biodiversity?

Many of us understand the magnitude of this problem of biodiversity loss and what it means for us and for the planet.  The question becomes, “What can one person out of seven billion possibly do to make a difference?” Economies of Scale are partly to blame for our predicament - If ten people want beaver hats, there is little impact on nature.  When 100 million people want beaver hats, you have a problem.  It works the other way as well.  If all of us do just a little bit to make a difference, positive changes will happen.

I suggest that we apply a “Conservation Litmus Test” to our daily decisions.  Don’t worry about making decisions that are the “best” for the planet - most of the time those choices are too expensive or time consuming or impractical for a variety of reasons.  Use the Conservation Litmus Test to make a “better” decision.  For example, you are ready to upgrade your gas guzzling vehicle.  The best for the planet might be to ride a bicycle.  If that is possible and practical, then go for it, but in most cases it won’t be.  So you might decide on buying a used Hybrid.  That is a “better” choice than others you can think of, but maybe not the “best” choice for the planet.  Nevertheless, it is one that you can make and therefore make a difference for biodiversity.

Many times the better choice will cost a little extra in time or money - consider that your small contribution to Mother Earth.  The Conservation Litmus Test of “better” choices can be applied to almost every facet of your current habits, and if you multiply those choices times seven billion, we’ll gradually shift the current consumption paradigm to a conservation paradigm and save ourselves and spaceship Earth.

I welcome your comments about how we can take actions to save the planet from ourselves.  Send them to Tom at [email protected]