James D Reichel.

Preliminary amphibian and reptile survey of the Helena National Forest : 1995 : a report to USDA Forest Service online

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Preliminary
Amphibian and Reptile Survey

of the
Helena National Forest: 1995

STATE DOCUMENTS COLLECTION

.!UN IP 1998

MONTANA STATE LIBRARY
.,^, 1515 E. 6th AVE.
HELENA, MONTANA 59S2Q

A Report to:

USDA Forest Service

Helena National Forest

2880 Skyway Drive
^,^elena,MT 59601

•# i%J§ M M irf |t^



Submitted by

JM-IES D. REICHEL

March 1996

Montana Natural Heritage Program
1515 East Sixth Avenue

P.O. Box 201800
Helena. MT 59620-1800



© 1996 Montana Natural Heritage Program



This document should be cited as follows:

Reichel, J. D. 1996. Preliminary amphibian and reptile survey of the Helena National Forest: 1995. Montana
Natural Heritage Program. Helena, MT. 87 pp.



11



ABSTRACT

A total of 44 sun'eys and several additional sightings were made in the Helena National
Forest (HNF) between May and August 1995. Localized areas across the entire forest were
covered in the survey. Surveys of ponds, lakes, seeps, streams or other wetlands, made by 1 or 2
individuals. Each survey took 10-150 person-minutes and consisted of a thorough search of the
wetland perimeter and netting of near shore aquatic habitats for adults, eggs, larvae, and tadpoles.
Stream sampling was done by hand and dipnet. Seeps were checked by rolling over rocks and
logs in and near wet areas. In addition to surs'eys, sightings were made from road kills, vocal
identifications, or fortuitous sightings by other reliable individuals.

Four amphibians are present on the HNF: Long-toed Salamander (Ambystoma
macrodactylum). Tailed Frog {Ascaphus truei). Western Toad {Bufo boreas), and Spotted Frog
{Rana pretiosa). The Spotted Frog was the most widespread amphibian tliroughout the forest.
The Tailed Frog has been reported from a single location on the Lincoln District. Long-toed
Salamanders were found throughout the main Rocky Mountain chain and in the Elkliom
Mountains. The Western Toad was found in very few locations on the HNF in 1995, all in the
main Rocky Mountain chain. Historically it has been reported in the Big Belt Mountains;
however it was not found there during our surveys. This is consistent with the apparent region-
wide declines in this species. Four other prairie-inliabiting amphibians have been reported in the
area, though in some cases well away from HNF lands; these include the Western Chorus Frog
{Pseudacris trisehatd), Woodhouse's Toad {Bufo woodhousii), Plains Spadefoot {Scaphiopus
bombifrons), and Northern Leopard Frog {Rana pipiens). The Western Chorus Frog is common
in prairie ponds to the north and east of HNF lands; two reports were received for the Helena
National Forest, but need confimiation. A tadpole reported to be a Woodhouse's Toad is present
at the Montana State University Museum; given the difficulty in identifying toad tadpoles and
distance from known sites, this should be treated as hypothetical until verified. The Plains
Spadefoot is known from the Helena Valley, but has yet to be found in the ITNF. A report was
received of a Northern Leopard Frog from the vicinity of McDonald Pass; given the distance
from other known locations and unusual habitat, this report should be treated as hypothetical
until verified. The Northern Leopard Frog was also reported historically from several prairie
areas, outside and at lower elevations than HNF lands. The Deepdale Fishing Access Site had
frogs as recently as 1994, however three surveys in 1995 failed to relocate them. Northern
Leopard Frogs are nearly extirpated from western Montana, and recent evidence indicates a
decline elsewhere in Montana (except perhaps the southeast comer).

Ten reptiles have been reported from near the HNF, but only tliree have been definitely
reported from on the forest: the Racer {Coluber constrictor), Western Terrestrial Garter Snake
{Thamnophis elegans) and Conimon Garter Snake {TJwmnophis sirtalis). All were reported in
the main Rocky Mountains. The Racer and Western Terrestrial Garter Snake also were found in
the Big Belt Mountains and there is a record of the Common Garter Snake from the Elkliom
Mountains. The following reptiles have been reported in the area and may eventually be found
on lower elevation HNF lands: Painted Turtle {Chrysemys picta). Spiny Softshell {Trionyx
spinifera). Short-homed Lizard {Phrynosoina douglasi). Rubber Boa {Charina bottae). Milk
Snake {Lcmpropeltis triangidum), Gopher Snake {Pituophis catenifer), and Western Rattlesnake



ni



{Crotalus viridis). The Painted Turtle has been recorded just off the HNF on the east side of the
Elkhom Mountains. The Spiny Softshell is present in large rivers at lower elevations; it has been
reported from Canyon Ferry Reservoir, but there is no recent confirmation. Both the Short-
homed Lizard and Milk Snake are present in the area near Three Forks, south of the HNF. The
Rubber Boa has been recorded just off the HNF south of Helena and near Granite Butte; it surely
occurs on the HNF. The Gopher Snake has been reported from the intermountain valleys, as
close as Va mile from the HNF. The Western Rattlesnake also has been recorded just off the
HNF; v/iih several records at lower elevations, it probably will eventually be found on the HNF
lands.



IV



TABLE OF CONTENTS

ABSTRACT iii

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS vii

INTRODUCTION 1

METHODS AND MATERIALS 2

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION 3

Species kno\vn to be present on the Helena National Forest 6

Long-toed Salamander {Ambystoma macrodactylum) 6

Tailed Frog {Ascaphus truei) 8

Western Toad {Bufo boreas) 10

Spotted Frog {Rana pretiosa) 12

Racer {Coluber constrictor) 14

Western Terrestrial Garter Snake {Thamnophis elegans) 16

Common Garter Snake {Thamnophis sirtalis) 18

Species Potentially Present on the Helena National Forest 20

Western Chorus Frog {Pseiidacris triseriata) 20

Woodhouse's Toad {Bufo woodhousii) 22

Plains Spadefoot {Scaphiopus [=SpeaJ bombifrons) 24

Northern Leopard Frog {Rana pipiens) 26

Painted Turtle {Chrysemys picta) 28

Spiny Softshell {Trionyx spiniferus) {=Apa!one spiniferd) 30

Short-homed Lizard {Phrynosoma douglasi) 32

Rubber Boa {Charina bottae) 34

Milk Snake {Lampropeltis trianguhun) 36

Gopher Snake {Pituophis catenifer [=melanoleucusJ) 38

Western Rattlesnake {Crotahis viridis) 40

Regional Information 41

Rocky Mountain chain 41

Elkhom Mountains 41

Big Belt Mountains 42

Dry Range 42

RECOMMENDATIONS 43

Surveys, Monitoring and Research 43

Management 44

BIBLIOGRAPHY 45



V



Appendix 1. Data Sheets used for Reptiles and Amphibian Surveys and Observations 59

Appendix 2. Sites surveyed during 1995 amphibian and reptile surveys 61

Appendix 3. Amphibians and reptiles observed during surveys on or near the Helena National
Forest in 1995 64

Appendix 4. Amphibians and reptiles reported from in and around the Helena National Forest
66

Appendix 5. Notes on harlequin surveys and examination of potential northern bog lemming
habitat on the Helena National Forest 83

Appendix 6. Heritage program species ranking definitions 85



VI



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I would like to thank the staff from the Helena National Forest for their assistance in
determining the location of possible sur\'ey sites, information on heip obser\'ations, field
assistance, and other support; they included Quinn Carver, Brent Costain, Doug Grupenhoff,
Archie Haiper, Shane Hendrickson, Connie Jacobs, Barry Paulson, Melanie Scott, and Len
Walch. D. D. Dover, J. Hinshaw, C. Jones, and K. Jurist assisted with field work, data entry, and
map preparation. Financial support for the project came from the Helena National Forest (U.S.
Forest Service, Northern Region) and the Montana Natural Heritage Program (Montana State
Library, Natural Resources Information System and The Nature Consers'ancy).

Museum records were received from: American Museum of Natural History, Academy of
Natural Science, Bingham Young University, California Academy of Science, Carnegie Museum,
University of Puget Sound Museum, Field Museum of Natural History, Glacier National Park
Museum, Illinois Natural History Survey, University of Kansas, Los Angeles County Museum,
Louisiana State University Museum of Zoology, Museum of Comparative Zoology - Harvard,
Milwaukee Public Museum, Montana State University Museum, Michigan State University
Museum, North Carolina State Museum of Natural History, Northern Louisiana University
Museum, University of Colorado Museum, University of Georgia Museum of Natural History,
University of Idaho Museum, University of Michigan Museum, University of Montana Museum,
University of South Dakota, United States National Museum of Natural History, University of
Texas - Arlington, University of Texas - El Paso, Peabody Museum - Yale, University of
California-Berkeley Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, and Mid-continental Ecological Sciences
Center at University of New Mexico Museum of Southwestern Biology. Much of the museum
data was received with the help of Dr. Charles Peterson, Idaho State University, Pocatello.



's'il



INTRODUCTION

Many amphibians are apparently declining in the western U.S. and world-wide (Com and
Fogelman 1984, Phillips 1994, Yoffe 1992). Acid rain, ozone depletion, pollution by toxic
chemicals and heavy metals, predation and/or competition by exotic species, habitat alteration,
climate change, disease, immune system problems, and some combination of these factors have
all been suggested as possible causes (Blaustein et al. 1994a, 1994b; Corn and Fogelman 1984;
Phillips 1994; Yoffe 1992).

Bass and non-native trout have been introduced into waters on or near the Helena National
Forest (HNF) and have been implicated in declines of native amphibian populations in some
areas. Past forestry practices and large scale logging continue to be detrimental to resident
herpetofauna (Bury et al. 1991). The Tailed Frog (Ascaphiis truei), present on the HNF, is
thought to be one of the most sensitive indicators of stream-side and aquatic community health in
forested landscapes (R. B. Bury, pers. comm.). Preliminary data indicate the Northern Leopard
Frog {Rana pipiens) has disappeared over much of its former range in western Montana and is
declining in at least some areas of eastern Montana (Hendricks and Reichel in review; Reichel
1995a, 1995b; Werner and Reichel 1994, 1996). The US Fish and Wildlife Service now lists the
Western Toad {Biifo boreas) as a Candidate (C-1) species in Colorado, Wyoming and New
Mexico. Apparent declines have recently been reported in northern Idaho (C. Peterson pers.
comm.), northwest Montana (Reichel and Flath 1995; Werner and Plumber 1995; Werner and
Reichel 1994, 1996), Yellowstone National Park (Koch and Peterson 1995), Wyoming, and
Colorado (Carey 1993).

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed two Montana amphibians and two reptiles as
Candidate (C2) species: the Spotted Frog {Rana pretiosa). Tailed Frog, Short-homed Lizard
{Phrynosoma douglasi) and Northern Sagebmsh Lizard {Sceloporus graciosus graciosus). The
U.S. Forest Service Region 1 lists the Coeur d'Alene Salamander {Plethodon idahoemis) as
"Sensitive" and is considering adding several other amphibians. The Montana Natural Heritage
Program and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks list 6 amphibians [Coeur
d'Alene Salamander, Idaho Giant Salamander {Dicamptodon aterrimns). Tailed Frog, Canadian
Toad {Bufo hemiophrys). Spotted Frog, Wood Frog {Rana sylvatica)] and 7 reptiles [Snapping
Turtle {Chelydra serpentina). Spiny Softshell {Trionyx spiniferus). Short-homed Lizard,
Sagebrush Lizard, Western Hognose Snake [Heterodon nasicus). Smooth Green Snake
{Opheodrys vemalis). Milk Snake {Lampropeltis triangulum)] as species of special concem in
the state. The Northern Leopard Frog and Western Toad are being considered for addition to the
species of special concem list; currently they on the watch list. Seven of these species, the Tailed
Frog, Western Toad, Spotted Frog, Northern Leopard Frog, Spiny Softshell, Short-homed Lizard,
and Milk Snake occur or potentially occur on the HNF.



METHODS AND MATERIALS

Historic locations of amphibians and reptiles were recorded from literature (see
Bibliography) and museum specimen records. Records were received from over 20 major
museum collections in North America (see Acknowledgments). Locations derived from these
sources have been entered into a database and digitized.

Survey sites were chosen based on 4 criteria: 1) high priority sites as determined by the ILNF;
2) location of streams, seeps and wetlands on topographic maps; 3) accessibility of the wetlands
by roads or hiking trails; and 4) conversations with district biologists regarding stream-seep-
wetland locations. Based on the above, 2-8 sites were chosen daily for surveys. A total of 10-
150 person-minutes were spent at each site, depending upon the size of the area and what was
found. Initially, the entire shoreline, or a major part thereof, was searched by walking slowly
along the edge and up into the surrounding vegetation, including rolling over rocks and logs. At
regular intervals, the aquatic habitat was sampled for tadpoles or larvae using dipnets. If the
initial sampling showed amphibian/reptile species present, further effort was expended in order
to get some idea of abundance and distribution.

An attempt was made to capture at least the first few individuals of a species seen at a survey
site. The species name was recorded along with developmental stage and sex (if possible); the
animals were then released. Representative samples of the more common species in an area were
preserved for permanent museum records and will be deposited at the Idaho State University
Museum. Water temperature, air temperature, pH, a general description of the area, and other
parameters were recorded. Standard data sheets used during this project are given in Appendix
1; the amphibian survey data sheet was developed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is used
extensively by a variety of researchers in the western U.S. Much site-specific data was gathered
during these surveys; not all data has been analyzed or is presented in this report, but is available
from the Montana Natural Heritage Program.

Natural Heritage Program species status ranking definitions and explanations are given in
Appendix 6.



RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

A total of 47 sites were surveyed of which 29 had one or more amphibian or reptile species
present (Figure 1, Appendices 2 and 3); one site was surveyed two times. Although no species
were found at 1 8 sites, their absence may have been due to the time of day, weather conditions,
or other factors at the time of sampling. With three exceptions, all of the sites were on HNF
land.

In addition to the 48 sur\'eys, there were a number of sightings (i.e. road kills, chance
observations) for which data are available and the sightings considered reliable. Species location
data from surveys, chance encounters, and historic records (from the literature and museum
specimens) are listed in Appendix 4. Distribution maps were created using survey and sighting
data and historical records; inset statewide maps for each species are based on sight and
specimen records, both recent and historic.

No previous publications or reports on reptiles or amphibians concentrate on the HNF area.
Based on museum specimens, publications, surveys and incidental obsers'ations, four
amphibians and three reptiles have been located on the HNF; an additional four amphibians and
seven reptiles may eventually be found to occur there. Tliree amphibian and one reptile species
were actually obser\'ed during the study. The following results are presented as individual
species summaries for the Forest as a whole, followed by specific infonnation on each mountain
range.

In the following species accounts, the section on "Similar Species" covers species only which
are known or suspected to occur in Montana; outside Montana other confusing species may occur
which are not covered in this report. Photos of all Montana amphibians and reptiles may be
found in Reichel and Flath (1995). Keys to amphibian eggs (Livezey and Wright 1947) and
tadpoles (Altig 1970) are a\'ailable in the literature, but are difficult to use, and for many species
are not satisfactory for field identification.








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Species known to be present on the Helena National Forest

Long-toed Salamander {Ambystoma macrodactyhim)

Description: Adults are dart: gray to black with an irregular (and sometimes broken) green to
yellow stripe down the middle of the back. Adult snout-vent length varies from 2 to 3.25".
All salamanders have smooth moist skin without scales.

Eggs and Larvae: Egg masses are typically laid in small clusters of 5-100 eggs but may be
laid singly (Nussbaum et al. 1983); egg masses are typically attached to underwater
vegetation or submerged branches. Within the clear gelatinous eggs, the embryos are
somewhat light-colored, while frog and toad embr>'os are dark (e.xcept in Tailed Frogs).
Larval Long-toed Salamanders are typically brown- or gray-colored, are found in ponds, have
tliree external gills, and are relatively small (


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Online LibraryJames D ReichelPreliminary amphibian and reptile survey of the Helena National Forest : 1995 : a report to USDA Forest Service → online text (page 1 of 7)