Robert Stack of the Angels Camp-based Jumping Frog Research Institute joked that the frogs are direct descendants of "Dan'l Webster" — Twain's fictional frog — after he verified the discovery in early October. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Don Hankins found one male and two female frogs Oct. 21, two weeks after a previous search was unsuccessful.
The last such sighting in Calaveras County was in 1969.
The service is offering to work with nearby property owners to see if the frogs survive there as well. Stack is seeking grants to develop a captive-breeding program to protect a population he estimates at 10-20 frogs, by nurturing some of the eggs next year. He hopes to use the remnant frogs to one day re-populate the county.
As a threatened species, the frog enjoys protections that have caused some trepidation from property owners and developers who fear intrusive government oversight or a drop in land values. The Fish and Wildlife Service removed Calaveras County from its proposed rescue plan for the species after local officials objected.
County Supervisor Lucy Thein, whose district includes the ranch, said most officials seem to welcome the frog despite concerns it could prompt delays to meet Endangered Species Act requirements.
Warren "Buck" King, the unofficial "Frogtown mayor" who managed the Calaveras County Fair and Frog Jumping Jubilee until he retired this year, led local opposition to Stack's reintroduction plans. He feared it would force landowners to kill off the bullfrog, which has taken over much of the red-legged frog's habitat, and is the preferred frog used at the annual jumping contest named after Twain's fictional 1865 challenge.