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Gopher Frogs get a Helping Hand

Mississippi Gopher Frog

By Harlan Kirgan, Mississippi Press

Published: Saturday, January 28, 2012

VANCLEAVE, Mississippi -- The Commodore Climate Changers, a sixth-grade science club from Gulfport, spent Friday morning learning about the Mississippi gopher frog's habitat, and then got busy helping the endangered species on a pine savanna.

The 35 students were on the 1,700-acre Old Fort Bayou Mitigation Bank owned by The Nature Conservancy, west of The Preserve Golf Club, where a tiny colony of gopher frogs live.

The mitigation bank was acquired to replace wetlands lost to development.

Katrina Reno, one of the sixth-graders from Gulfport Central Middle School, said the science club picked the gopher frogs as a project.

"Three of the students found this Mississippi gopher frog online," she said. "It has only one habitat in the United States and it is here."

Friday was the first day for the students to visit the site where they cut underbrush to make way for grass.

Sixth-grade teacher Natasha Mays said that for many of the students, being in a nature setting is a rare experience.

"They actually get to see what they are studying in the classroom out in nature," she said. "Even with all the technology we are able to give them, they still don't get to experience it first hand, touch it, see it and appreciate it. We want them to care about it, not just know about it."

The students are growing longleaf pines to plant at the site after a burn planned in April, she said.

John Tupy, a graduate student from Western Carolina University who is studying the Mississippi gopher frog, estimated there are up to 200 of the frogs in nature and from 20 to 30 of those are living at the Old Fort Bayou site.

The gopher frogs also exist at Glen's Pond in Harrison County and Mike's Pond, which is north of Old Fort Bayou, he said.

"It is amazing these kids came up with this idea on their own," Tupy said. "They wanted to come up with a topic that was close to them and close to something they can relate to and something interesting to them."

The frogs at Old Fort Bayou have been transplanted to the site, he said. The main source of naturally breeding frogs is the Harrison County pond in the DeSoto National Forest, he said.

Student Amanda McCarthy said, "I think it a wonderful idea to start this because you are helping the whole planet. You making the world more livable."

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