FORSYTH — Sarah Barlow had a small problem. She had a deep knowledge and interest in frogs and toads, including two wildlife degrees focused on herps and a thesis exploring frogs’ use of restored wetlands. But the former city of Savannah environmental planner had no place to apply that experience.
"I had all these strong (frog) identification skills that I wasn’t able to use," Barlow said.
The answer: NAAMP. Developed by the U.S. Geological Survey, the North American Amphibian Monitoring Program is an international study investigating the distribution and relative abundance of amphibians across the continent. NAAMP depends on frog-savvy volunteers who monitor local listening routes three times a year.
Barlow signed up last year. She contacted Georgia NAAMP coordinator John Jensen of the state Department of Natural Resources, practiced her frog-ID skills and passed the required online quiz. She even drove her rural, 10-mile route near Glennville beforehand, checking out the habitat at the set listening sites.
Barlow then squeezed the two hours-plus it took per survey into her already-hectic schedule. The result is what she described as "a very relaxing way to spend the evening."
Considering the fieldwork she did in Louisiana for her thesis, "This was a lot tamer than being in the middle of a bayou on a four-wheeler," Barlow said laughing. "This was country club frogging!"
Frogs can serve as sentinels of environmental change. Many frogs and other amphibians are high-priority species in Georgia’s wildlife action plan, a comprehensive strategy that guides DNR efforts to conserve biological diversity. NAAMP monitoring data is analyzed for patterns of amphibian decline, stability or increase on local and wider levels.
Jensen, a senior wildlife biologist with the DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section, said more surveys are needed to pinpoint trends in Georgia. 2011 marks only the fourth year of the state’s involvement.
But the immediate payback has included volunteers identifying lesser-known frogs in areas the species had not been documented before, Jensen said.
He’s hoping for more volunteers for 2011. Forty-five of the state’s 73 routes were covered this year. Most of the unassigned routes are in South Georgia.
Jensen suggested would-be volunteers assess their frog identification abilities, then e-mail him at email@example.com or call the Nongame Conservation Section office in Forsyth at 478-994-1438. The first listening window next year opens Jan. 15.
Barlow is now a naturalist at Sandy Creek Nature Center in Athens. She plans to look for a 2011 route closer to home. But she will be putting her frog skills back into play, calling the citizen-powered NAAMP surveys "important work to be done."
Georgians can help conserve amphibians and other nongame wildlife, native plants and natural habitats through buying a wildlife license plate featuring a bald eagle or a ruby-throated hummingbird. They can also donate to the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Fund through the state income tax checkoff, online at www.georgiawildlife.com (click "Donate to the Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund") and in other ways.
Contributions are vital to the Wildlife Resources Division’s Nongame Conservation Section. The section receives no state general funds for its mission to help conserve wildlife not legally hunted, fished for or trapped, as well as rare plants and natural habitats in Georgia.
For more information, go to www.georgiawildlife.com/node/338 or call Nongame Conservation Section offices in Social Circle at 770-761-3035.