Urban wildlife sanctuaries, including an overgrown Capp Street backyard, are helping bring a tiny frog’s once-familiar bellow back to San Francisco.
“At one time, the chorus frog was the sound of the Bay Area,” said Jim McKissock, who has seeded The City in recent years with the young of the only remaining local population. “Now they’re virtually all gone.”
McKissock said local vernal habitats of the Pacific chorus frogs — which are also known as Pacific tree frogs — have been almost entirely paved over for new developments in San Francisco, and that the frogs have been nearly “weed-whacked out of existence” in overmanaged parks and lawns.
Frogs from a healthy, successful Brisbane population shouldn’t be brought to San Francisco, according to McCkissock, who wants to protect local strains of the species. “If we lose these here, we’ll never be able to bring them back,” he said.
McKissock, who founded the local conservation nonprofit Earthcare, said he chose to use some of the precious few local tadpoles to establish a population in a Mission back yard maintained by Ned McAllister.
“It’s lush and overgrown,” McKissock said. “That also encourages a lot of insects — the frogs eat the insects, and the insects need a place to live, too.”
McAllister estimated that 40 to 45 frogs have grown up from the 100 tadpoles introduced in May to his backyard pond. They’ve ventured from the pond to distant corners of the yard, where they crawl oncactus, vines and flowering plants.
Although the frogs and tadpoles are still too rare to be given to anyone who wants them, McAllister said he hasn’t needed to stock his yard with wildlife for it to quickly fill with amphibians, including salamanders, and a smorgasbord of other types of little-noticed wildlife.
“It’s just about letting it go,” McAllister said, “and getting past the concepts of creating a highly manicured, nice garden.”
The professional reptile breeder said that to create an urban wildlife refuge, dead plants should not be raked up, but should instead be left to cover and leach their nutrients back into the soil. He also said pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals are “absolutely deadly to any kind of amphibian” and should not be used.
The frogs need abundant sunshine, water and plenty of cover, said McAllister, who has hung mirrors from a fence to reflect sunlight back into the yard. He is also building a series of small, vegetated, mosquito-proof ponds throughout the yard, which he hopes to vegetate with native grasses. One lies under a hammock.
“You basically want to try to invite the wildlife into your yard,” he said. “Things will land in your yard if you just leave it, like mosses, and who knows what else.”