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The Michigan Frog and Toad Survey - First Year

Lori G. Sargent

Natural Heritage Program, Wildlife Division
Michigan Department of Natural Resources

[ Abstract ]

The annual Michigan Frog and Toad Survey was initiated in 1996 by the Natural Heritage Program. Funding for the program comes from the Nongame Wildlife Fund through private contributions. Michigan amphibian population data lacks a baseline from which to evaluate any declines in the state. Given the worldwide decline of amphibians, it was important to initiate this study. The survey is volunteer-based. Not only a scientific study, it was also meant to be an educational program to teach citizens about native frog species and their plight in the world and in Michigan. The survey also serves as an outreach program by offering an opportunity for the Department to work with the public in a positive and productive manner and vice versa. The following describes how the Michigan survey was established and initiated.

A total of 26 training workshops were held throughout the state with approximately 1000 participants. Co-sponsors included the Parks and Recreation Division of the DNR, the Kalamazoo Nature Center and the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary of Michigan State University. Even with minimal advertising, interest in the workshops and the survey was overwhelming. It seemed to be a favorite topic for newspapers, radio stations, and television stations. Workshops were approximately two hours long and included information on general frog biology, distinguishing species by sight and sound, general habitat requirements, guidelines for setting up a route, and survey methods. The "random" routes developed and printed by the National Biological Survey were explained and offered to interested participants. Acceptable routes were not limited to these random routes because there were many more participants than routes. Explanations of route establishment included emphasis on randomization of site location. For example, routes should be mapped out on paper before driving them, and routes should be established when there are no frogs calling (i.e., before they emerge in the spring). Participants were instructed to not change or omit a site except if conditions did not permit surveying (i.e., loud noises prevented observer from hearing frog calls). Protocols for amphibian calling surveys established by the North American Amphibian Monitoring Program (NAAMP) were followed as closely as possible. There were a total of 468 submitted survey routes resulting in a 49% participation rate among those attending workshops. Instruction packages were also mailed to interested parties.

Materials distributed at each workshop included instructions on establishing a route and conducting the survey, a route description form and a list of wetland categories. Participants were instructed to submit a completed route description form and a map of their route at a later date. Route descriptions were recorded on county maps and in a database. If a subsequent route description was received that duplicated sites selected by another participant, the last participant was asked to move the redundant locations. Route descriptions include tier, range, section, wetland type and a brief description of each site's orientation. Participants were instructed to describe each site by using one or more of the following wetland categories: vernal pond, wet meadow, bog or fen, marsh, wooded swamp, or pond. Detailed descriptions of each category were distributed at the training workshops. After route descriptions were registered each participant was given a number and then sent a package of materials including a cassette tape of frog calls, information on the biology of frogs and information on each species found in Michigan, a frog identification poster, and data sheets. The idea of withholding the tape and other materials until routes were registered was a recommendation from the Wisconsin Frog Survey. Tapes were withheld so they could be distributed to those participants likely to actually do the survey and also requires the participant to have an approved route before doing the survey.

A total of 468 routes have been registered as of October 1, 1996. A significant number of those are located in the southern third of the state, but there is good distribution throughout other portions. There are even routes on three islands in the Great Lakes, including Isle Royale. Two areas lacking routes include the middle of the lower peninsula and the "thumb" area. Training workshops may be scheduled in those areas in the next year to target participation.

Completed data sheets were due by September 1, 1996. As of October 1 there were data from 278 routes returned, an approximately 60% response rate. Michigan experienced a very long, cold winter in 1996. Snow cover and cold temperatures remained until June in the most northern areas and into May in some of the southern areas of the state. Many participants expressed frustration with cold temperatures and the few, if any, opportunities to conduct their surveys. The weather, most likely, significantly influenced participation in this first year. There was some confusion among the participants as to when surveys should be conducted. Even though timing was emphasized in the workshops as one of the most important factor in conducting surveys, participants became focused on staying within recommended dates rather than on temperatures. Recommended dates have been removed from survey instructions to alleviate this problem in the future.

Upon submission of data sheets, participants were sent a survey update, a data summary, a "Frog Survey Participant" patch, and a postcard to return to the coordinator. Also included in this mailing was information on the state wetlands protection laws and actions to be taken if wetlands violations were observed. The survey update was used as a vehicle to clear points of confusion, important points could be stressed, and also to ask for further help. Participants have been given the opportunity to become a regional coordinator. This position is described in the accompanying update. The postcard was a means to determine interest in continuing the survey in 1997. Participants had the choice of (a) running the survey next year, (b) not running the survey next year and suggesting an alternative participant, (c) not running the survey and not having an alternative participant, and (d) removing their name from the mailing list. They were asked to choose all that applied. Participants were also asked if their name and telephone number could be distributed to (a) the media, and/or (b) other frog survey participants. Postcards were business reply mail.

Future mailings to participants will include further updates, further data summaries, data sheets for those wishing to continue, and 8 x 10 signs to post in their vehicle while conducting the surveys. These signs were suggested by a participant. There was a need to identify themselves as part of the state project while out at night. Signs will be constructed of stiff 4-ply cardboard and printed with the Michigan Frog and Toad Survey logo, the DNR logo, and the word "Volunteer" in large letters on a background of bright yellow.

The Michigan Frog and Toad Survey will provide important and necessary data on the frog populations in the state. This first year may have been a little rocky due to the harsh weather conditions, but the people of the state have showed intense interest, and the survey has a bright future. As we all learn, revisions will be made in the instructional materials and any future training workshops.

U.S. Department of the Interior
U.S. Geological Survey
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
Laurel, MD, USA 20708-4038
Contact: Sam Droege, email:
Last Modified: June 2002