Captive bred Boreal Toads released on Paunsaugunt Plateau for second year

Boreal Toad ReleaseBoreal Toad Release

Story and Photos by Kevin S. Abel
Dixie National Forest Public Affairs Officer

Following the successful captive breeding of boreal toad at Denver Zoo last year, just under 500 captive bred toads were released June 16, 2020 into their native range on the Paunsaugunt Plateau in the Powell Ranger District of the Dixie National Forest.

This year’s Boreal Toad tadpoles were hatched and raised by the Wahweap State Fish Hatchery, a Utah Department of Wildlife Resources facility following a similar hormone injection formula that the Denver Zoo used last year.

Boreal Toads, considered an Intermountain Region forest sensitive species, are native to Utah and elsewhere in the western United States. They’re found in high mountain wetlands at elevations between 7,000 to 12,000 feet. Once common in mountain habitats across Utah, Boreal Toad populations have severely declined in recent decades.

Dixie National Forest Fish Biologist Michael Golden, says several factors are involved in population declines. “As we lost beaver off the Paunsaugunt Plateau their dams declined and did not back up water, we lost breeding habitat. The only place we have found Boreal Toad breeding habitat on the Plateau is in beaver ponds.”

With its numbers in severe decline, the Dixie National Forest, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and zoos, including Utah Department of Wildlife Resources, Denver Zoo, and Utah’s Hogle Zoo have partnered up to support the species through research and breeding programs aimed at boosting wild populations.

Assurance populations designed to develop captive breeding populations were established initially in 2008, by collecting egg strands from local waters.

Since the partnership began, eggs and juveniles have been shipped to hatcheries and aquariums, including Wahweap Fish Hatchery in Big Water, Loveland Living Planet Aquarium, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in Nebraska, Colorado Native Aquatics Hatchery in Alamosa, Colorado, Utah’s Hogle Zoo and the Denver Zoo.

Success has been relatively limited in the captive breeding program…until 2019 when the Denver Zoo amphibian experts Tom Weaver and Derek Cossaboon, and staff member Judy Mead, came to the Paunsaugunt Plateau and released over 600 captive bred Boreal toads with the help of staff members from the Dixie National Forest, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and Utah’s Hogle Zoo.

Simultaneous to Boreal Toad assurance colony development and reintroduction efforts, local biologists and land managers have also been working to improve watershed habitat. “Boreal Toads are important as biological indicators of how well an ecosystem is doing,” said Golden.

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