Ranitas Contaminadas—Agricultural Chemicals in Sierra Frogs

By Jose Gonzalez, NewsTaco

There is a little rhyme in Spanish that goes:

“Sana, sana, colita de rana, si no sanas hoy, sanarás mañana”

It is a common rhyme to comfort one with a boo-boo, roughly translating to:

“Heal, Heal, little frog tail, if you don’t heal today, you’ll heal tomorrow”.

But with some sad irony, it is frogs that need some healing and care as a new press release from the US Geological Survey, and subsequent news coverage, noted how frogs in the high mountains of California are contaminated with farm chemicals—pesticides, but especially fungicides.

This is a big deal strictly thinking about the human impacts on the environment and especially for the frog populations studied. The study, USGS report, and accompanying news stories should be read with that focus in mind. But there are some points here on which to expand and highlight for the Latino community.

First, similar to how I noted for bees, we need to pay attention to what is happening to frogs, and other amphibians, in our communities and all over the world. Given their sensitivity as amphibians, they are an indicator species in a contaminated environment. Simply put, they are some of the first animals to be affected by pollutants and that can tells us a lot about the health of a habitat—and what to pay attention to. Seeing how these frogs are affected, and how they bio-accumulate—or build up toxins—should inform us to have proper regulations and policies for the pesticides and fungicides we use on our food crops. We should be aware of these issues.

Second, if frogs may be the first on the line to be affected by farm chemicals, we can think of another “indicator species” directly affected in that line of work: farmworkers, campesinos. We already see part of this story in the battle of what strawberry fumigant to use in California, with a big concern of how it affects the farmworkers in the strawberry fields. We need to keep in mind that the people that pick our crops are routinely at risk by exposure to agricultural chemicals.

Third, we should note that these frogs were affected not in the fields of the Central Valley, but up in the high mountains and National Parks of the Sierra Nevada, pointing to how the pesticides and other farm chemicals used in the fields are getting around to other parts—another type of agricultural drift that affects communities in the valley, and something many Latino communities have been complaining about for years.

Lastly, frogs are a charismatic species easily recognizable to all of us. Though the study referenced in these stories could not yet identify the impact of the fungicides on the frogs, frogs have already been in trouble with multiple stressors, contributing to their decline worldwide.  If they are in trouble and we do not step up to care for them, what does that say about our care for the habitats and ecosystems needed not just for other species but for ourselves? As one reader pointed out when I wrote about the bees, “It’s simple, if they die, we die.”

This is not to simply delve into worst case scenarios, but it is better to think about the preventative actions we can take now rather than the reactive actions when there may be less we can do.

We can say “sana, sana, colita de rana” but now we need to think about how the ranitas need some healing. Worse would be if they are no longer around to reference in a rhyme.

[Photo by US Geological Survey]

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