HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Firefighters are trying to prevent catastrophic wildfires without causing harm to a frog now on the brink of extinction. The U.S. Forest Service conducted a prescribed burn in Harrison County off of East Wortham Road, which is the habitat of the last few remaining Dusky Gopher Frogs in the world.
Tadpoles are kept in tanks until they are mature enough to be released to live in a nearby pond. Researchers said they're fighting to keep the last of the Dusty Gopher Frogs from becoming extinct.
"The Dusky Gopher, there is only 100 to 200 left in the world. This pond right here is the last productive population left, and mostly they've become endangered because of destruction of their habitat," said John Tupy, a researcher for West Carolina University.
U.S. Forest Service officials said they do prescribed burns each year to help protect natural habitats. However, when burning in this 450 acre area, the firefighters avoided the areas immediately adjacent to the pond as an extra precaution.
"We want to make sure when we burn we're not doing any damage to the frog," said Ben Battle, Desoto District Ranger. "Obviously, we want to make sure that we're doing the best job for the habitat and for the frog. We try to make sure that we don't get too close, because we don't want to do anything that is going to set the population back. So, we're talking with wildlife biologist to make sure that we're burning under the best conditions."
The rangers also avoided getting their heavy equipment too close to the pond where the Dusky Gopher Frogs breed. Researchers said since only 10 percent of the frogs live long enough to reach an age where they start to reproduce, protecting the pond and not hurting their chances of survival is vital.
"Well, it's extremely important," said Tupy. "It's the last productive population, so if we want to do any type of conservation or expansion with the population, it all comes from here. The health of this pond and the uplands around it are vital for keeping the species alive."
Firefighters said the burn of 450 acres is smaller than many prescribed burns. Since the area borders Highway 49 on one side and Highway 67 on the other, they didn't want heavy smoke to create dangerous conditions for drivers.
"The ideal situation is we want to get the smoke up and out, so we want to make sure that we're looking at the wind heights. The lifting heights of the smoke," said Battle.