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Michael Rathbun, a San Bernardino County Museum professional biologist, recently located rare and endangered Mountain Yellow-legged Frogs in City Creek, near Highland, California. The frog, an endangered species, had been declared extinct in City Creek following the 2003 fires.

The City Creek habitat supported one of the few known populations of this frog species. When the area was burned over in 2003, surviving frogs were relocated to the Los Angeles Zoo on the advice of the U.S. Geological Survey, Biological Resources Division. The frogs became infected with the parasite Chytrid while in captivity, and could not be released back into the wild.

The USGS Biological Resources Division surveyed the burned area of City Creek in 2004 and 2005. Failing to locate the frog, it was declared extinct in the City Creek Habitat.

On September 9, while conducting a study of Willow Flycatcher habitat suitability for the San Bernardino National Forest, Rathbun rediscovered Mountain Yellow-legged Frogs in City Creek. “I saw two Rana muscosa around 9:15 a.m. as they jumped into the water,” he said, “and I was able to photograph them when they emerged.” The frogs were found in the same location as the pre-fire populations and in the same area surveyed by the USGS Biological Resources Division. Follow-up visits by the Forest Service confirmed Rathbun’s rediscovery.

“There have been Mountain Yellow-legged Frogs, fires, and floods in the San Bernardino Mountains for millennia,” said Gerald Braden, museum biological sciences curator and research biologist, “and yet the frogs are still there. This points out that well-meaning intervention in a natural habitat isn’t necessarily the best way to ‘save’ a species. Mike’s rediscovery of the Mountain Yellow-legged Frog in City Creek came from his comprehensive biological field expertise and ability to discriminate and identify the species among thousands of Hyla cadaverina, the California Tree Frog. It points to the need for more accurate endangered species survey techniques and more importantly, the need for a better understanding of the ecological relationships of endangered species and their habitats. The museum’s finding of an ‘extinct’ endangered species also has implications toward Critical Habitat for the Mountain Yellow-legged Frog as proposed by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”


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