ST. PAUL (AP) -- A state agency has scaled back an investigation of deformed frogs in Minnesota despite legislative funding of $600,000 during the past two years that was to keep the study going through June 30.
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency officials in charge of the research said they expected to return about $60,000 to the state fund from which the money originated. But they hoped to continue some research this summer.
"Things have been at a standstill," said MPCA supervisor Greg Gross. "We haven't done much research of any kind since last fall."
Gross said he couldn't find a qualified leader for the program after its previous coordinator left last fall. A new leader might be hired in June, but this year's research will be "impaired" because no one has been in the field this spring to check breeding ponds for deformed frogs.
Students noticed the frogs in a farm pond near Henderson in 1995. Since then, the Legislature has spent more than $1.3 million on research, about two-thirds of which has been used as grants to university and federal researchers.
The MPCA's lack of progress is frustrating to some legislators, including Rep. Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, who said the agency is "sidestepping its legislative direction" and seems to lack interest in a critical pollution issue.
"My constituents expect that there is clean water to recreate in and to drink in this state, and frogs are an indication that there may be some problems that could affect human health," Kelliher said.
Research into various deformities in frog species suggests several causes or a combination of causes, including pesticides, parasites, ultraviolet radiation and disease.
"I do think frog malformations are a problem," said Mike Lannoo, national coordinator of a scientific task force that studies declining amphibian populations. Although some deformities can be explained by natural causes, others cannot, he said. "It's scary," he said. "I think people should be concerned."
MPCA research scientist Judy Helgen, who directed the Minnesota program in its early years and is now working on a different project, said she is disappointed that the agency has been unable to continue its frog work.
"We need to continue the connections we have with other researchers and to continue to survey what's happening in the state," Helgen said. "That's the minimum that we should be doing."
Gross said he expects to hire a new project director within the next few weeks so that some Minnesota field research can be conducted this summer. The agency is prepared to spend $90,000 for each of the next two years to keep the project going, he said.
Lannoo said that with or without state help, a coalition of other researchers hopes to study about 20 deformed frog hot spots in Minnesota this summer. He defined hot spots as ponds that have 5 percent or more deformed frogs, compared with 1 percent or less that are considered to be natural background levels.
If the project goes forward, scientists will install specialized membranes that pick up contaminants in water. Lannoo said. They also will test which of the ponds have parasites or agricultural chemicals, and will determine whether the ponds are natural and connected to ground water systems or manmade "farm ponds" with clay bottoms that are isolated from other water supplies.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.