The Wyoming toad is set to have another home in the Laramie valley starting in 2017, on a spot that’s familiar ground for the endangered amphibian.
A 41-acre parcel of land that sits along the Laramie River just north of Curtis Street is the site of planned toad re-introduction scheduled for summer 2017.
The parcel is owned by the Wyoming Central Land and Improvement Company.
The parcel, which also sits west of U.S. Highway 287, contains wetlands and ponds that should provide suitable habitat for the toad, said Doug Keinath, recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Keinath said the site used to be known as a spot where it was easy to find the Wyoming toad, and the absence of the toad there was the first indication to scientists that the species was in decline.
“After they looked here, then they went all over the basin and couldn’t find any,” he said. “We’re returning them to one of their core areas.”
The Wyoming toad, which occurs only in Albany County, was plentiful until the 1970s, when its population took a sudden and swift decline. It was listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1984 and considered extinct shortly thereafter until rediscovery at Mortenson Lake southwest of Laramie in 1987. Some of the last known individuals were taken into captivity in 1989.
The new site includes Laramie River floodplain, which Keinath described as “classic historic toad habitat.” In addition to wetlands, it has areas with varying densities of vegetation, which will allow toads to select their ideal habitat.
“We’re pretty optimistic that they might do well here,” he said.
The toad has currently been re-introduced at three other locations in Albany County, but no site has any habitat shaped by seasonal flooding.
Leopard frogs and chorus frogs make their home on the site, which is an indication that it could be a suitable home for another amphibian. Keinath said leopard frogs are particularly sensitive to environmental contamination, so their presence indicates a healthy location.
“They’ve been extirpated from a lot of the basin, but they’re there, at this site,” he said.
The planned release is part of an updated recovery plan adopted by Fish and Wildlife Service in 2015, which aims to have the toad delisted as an endangered species by establishing at least five self-sustaining populations.
Laramie Rivers Conservation District works as an intermediary between Fish and Wildlife and private landowners that volunteer their property for reintroduction. Director Tony Hoch said the district sent certified letters to a dozen nearby landowners with more than 40 acres to inform them of the agreement. The district also held an open house last week to inform the public.
Earlier this year, Fish and Wildlife released more than 900 adult Wyoming toads in Albany County that were raised at the Saratoga National Fish Hatchery. More than 100,000 tadpoles and toads have been released since 2005.
Captive breeding has been ongoing since 1995 and now occurs at eight zoos around the country, as well as the University of Wyoming’s Red Buttes Biological Laboratory and Saratoga National Fish Hatchery.
Lizzy Mack, Wyoming toad project manager for Fish and Wildlife, said surveys conducted in 2017 will reveal how well the toads have survived.
“There’s a high likelihood they dispersed, and they will bury themselves during the year,” she said.