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Wildlife Organizations Rescue More Than 90 Frogs From South Coast Oil Leak

One of the frogs rescued from the Toro Canyon Creek area in Santa Barbara County after an oil spill.
Oiled Wildlife Care Network
One of the frogs rescued from the Toro Canyon Creek area in Santa Barbara County after an oil spill.

They go through cleanup, rehabilitation in preparation for re-release into wild.

In a building off of Overpass Road in Santa Barbara, a wildlife care expert has pulled a small plastic box off of a shelf, and has opened a small hatch on top of it. She pours some tiny, wriggling insects inside.

Sam Christie is helping with a unique animal rescue effort. The plastic box contains a tiny frog, and the insects are its lunch. There are rows and rows of the boxes here. The frog is one of more than 90 at this improvised shelter. They were rescued from an oil leak at Santa Barbara County’s Toro Canyon Creek.

"We have two different species. We have the Baja California Tree Frog, and the California Tree Frog." said Christie. "We're surrounded by so many cages, because it's important we keep them in separate enclosures. It's just to make sure we're identifying them properly, and also frogs are known to be a little bit cannibalistic so we don't want them to eat their neighbors."

The oil is coming from natural seepage which was turned into a well nearly 140 years ago. The site is northeast of Summerland. An estimated 400 to 600 gallons of oil reached the creek.

Eric Laughlin is with the State Department of Fish and Wildlife.

"Back in the late 1800s, there was an oil well installed by the Occidental Petroleum, which is no longer a company," said Laughlin. "Over the years the Environmental Protection Agency built an oil-water separator to kind of keep oil out of the creek. During the Thomas Fire, part of that apparatus
was actually burned."

It opened the door for oil, from a natural seep under the well, to flow into the creek.

The State Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Oiled Wildlife Care network was called out to help recover the oiled frogs.

All of the frogs were brought to a former Santa Barbara County Animal Services facility in Goleta, now being used by the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network.

The 91 frogs are all reported to be healthy, and will eventually be re-released into the wild.

Repair to control the oil seepage at Toro Canyon Creek has been underway for more than a month. Other efforts have included removing oil and oiled vegetation, as well as cleaning contaminated rocks. The work will set the stage for the return of the frogs.

The incident also highlights the need for the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network’s new 5,000 square foot home in Goleta, which is currently under construction. It will feature custom built facilities to help care for and treat oiled animals. Many animals currently have to be moved out of the area for treatment.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.