Wyoming Toad: Hopping Back Strong

New refuge established near Laramie for endangered amphibian

The Wyoming Toad, an endangered species, was once thought to be entirely extinct. In a triumph of conservation efforts, the toads are now bred in a variety of facilities and released back into the wild, bolstering their populations across the region. (Courtesy photo from Sara Armstrong, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)

By Melissa Thomasma

Special to the Wyoming Truth

You’ve got to be resilient to last in Wyoming, especially if you’re small. The Wyoming Toad is just that — diminutive and determined. This species of amphibian, which was declared endangered nearly 40 years ago and was believed to be completely gone from the wild, is making a strong comeback.

Now, the scrappy amphibian has a new spot to call home: a freshly established wildlife refuge outside of Laramie. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service purchased 1,078 acres of land, known as Bath Ranch, from the Conservation Fund to officially establish the Wyoming Toad Conservation Area. 

Established on over 1,000 acres adjacent to the Laramie River, the new Wyoming Toad Conservation Area offers ideal habitat for the endangered amphibians. (Courtesy photo from Barbara Boyle, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)

“This 1,000-ish acres contains good remnant toad habitat,” said  Keeley Lopez, refuge manager for the Wyoming Toad Conservation Area and other refuges in Wyoming and Colorado. In addition to senior water rights, the land includes wetlands, oxbow ponds and stretches of wet areas near the Laramie River.

Lopez said toad reintroduction on the property began early last summer, before the official establishment of the refuge. 

“We’re super excited for those toad reintroductions,” she said. “It has been an ongoing process throughout the Laramie Plains for a number of years… One of the stepping stones toward recovery is moving toward wild breeding in some of these smaller populations.”

Wyoming Toads are bred at seven zoos and three federal hatchery facilities around the region, according to Jeff Baughman, field conservation coordinator of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.

The rare amphibians are known as a “relic species,” meaning they have endured since the recession of the last ice age and do not have close genetic relatives in the region.

 “Wyoming Toads are amazing that they’ve survived all this time,” he said.

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is one of the programs that breeds captive Wyoming Toads and releases both tadpoles and adult toads at the new Wyoming Toad Conservation Area.

“Their natural history is to lay thousands of eggs—and hope,” Baughman said. “In good conditions [in the wild], four out of every thousand tadpoles will survive into maturity. In bad conditions it can be just two.” 

Releasing both tadpoles and mature toads increases the chances of a resilient breeding wild population, he said.

Both tadpoles and mature toads are released at locations, including the Wyoming Toad Conservation Area to maximize the number that survive to reproduction age. (Courtesy photo from Michael D’Agostino, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service) 

Forty percent of all captively-bred Wyoming Toads in 2023 were released in the new refuge in June. Baughman hopes the location will help enable full restoration of the species: “It’s larger than any of the other sites that we’ve been working at. It’s very promising, and we’re hopeful that we see some great results.”

While the new refuge will benefit the endangered amphibian, more widespread ecological benefits are expected, too, Lopez said.

“Lots of waterfowl and birds will benefit from the conservation area, as well as some riparian species,” she said. 

Lopez noted that ungulates and white-tailed prairie dogs are plentiful, which “has benefits up the food chain. Coyotes, foxes, badgers, raptors — the list goes on and on.”

Ultimately, Baughman said, this new site reinforces the importance of the Wyoming Toad and its conservation success story.

“It’s exciting that it even has Wyoming Toad in its name,” he said. “It shows that we’re committed to species recovery and have a great deal of support and backing in the area.”

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