Frog and turtle species return to Yosemite Valley, California after 50-year absence

Western pond turtles and California red-legged frogs, described by Mark Twain in his 1865 story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” are being raised for a return to Yosemite Valley this summer and next summer after a half-century absence.

Scientists with the National Park Service, San Francisco Zoo & Gardens, federal Fish & Wildlife Service and state Department of Fish & Wildlife are working together to make it happen.

We’re not breeding them, we are rearing them,” said Jessie Bushell, a biologist and director of conservation with San Francisco Zoo & Gardens. “The turtles are from a number of sites inside the park but outside Yosemite Valley, the far corners of the park. The frogs are from right around the Yosemite National Park area, private land near the park.

Bushell said some turtles may be released in Yosemite Valley as early as next week. Scientists at a rearing facility at the zoo are raising California red-legged frog tadpoles, and they will be ready for release in Yosemite Valley next summer, Bushell said.

Western pond turtles are a candidate species for designation as endangered or threatened, and California red-legged frogs are considered threatened, Bushell said.

Human decisions, like putting non-native American Bullfrogs in the Ahwahnee Hotel reflection pond in the 1950s, played a big role in wiping out California red-legged frogs that used to be in Yosemite Valley, according to Yosemite National Park staff, who described imported bullfrogs as “non-native, highly invasive and predatory.”

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