Science: Environment News

Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 12, 2008; 2:30 PM

Washington Post environment reporter Juliet Eilperin was online Monday, May 12 at 2:30 p.m. ET to discuss her latest story on a program to collect frogs from around the world in an attempt to halt the worldwide die-off of hundreds of amphibian species.

She also took questions about presidential candidate John McCain's environmental policy, which he spoke about this afternoon.

For science and policy news about the environment, visit's new Green Page.

A transcript follows.


Arlington, Va.: Isn't the death of so many species of frog just another reminder that we're dooming ourselves by refusing to radically alter the impact we're making on the earth? Does anyone really believe we'll address the problem of global warming before it's too late? I'm a strong believer that selfish and short term thinking will win out in the end.

Juliet Eilperin: Well, that's certainly one way to look at it, and there's no question that human actions are, to a significant extent, responsible for frogs' current predicament. However, many scientists think it's not too late to save them.


Munich, Germany: I'd once read a couple of years back that amphibians were suffering because they were the most sensitive animals to polution. Then I'd heard that a fungus was responsible, and that this fungus was being transported by researchers who had been trying to save frog populations. Does anyone know where this chytrid fungus originated from? It sounds like the colony collapse disorder amongst bees.

Juliet Eilperin: I don't know where chytrid fungus originated. There are many researchers who think that its massive and deadly spread in recent years is connected to global warming, but there are some scientists who disagree, so this is a question that will likely be debated for at least a few more years.


Staten Island, N.Y.: Thank you for teaching, caring and hopefully preventing some of the mass extinction presently underway in the world. It can be overwhelmingly depressing to hear about the demise of the bats in the Northeast, the song birds in South America, honey bees throughout the country, and now, amphibians. It is vitally important that people are aware of the destructive consequences of their environmental choices. Do you see ways in which larger groups of people (and companies) can be educated? And, is there hope with change?

Thank you,

Janis R. D'Angelo, DPM

Juliet Eilperin: You're welcome. I think the fact that the international zoo community has mobilized this quickly to try to save the most imperiled amphibians shows that there's still some reason for hope. At the same time, if we continue to pursue the activities we're pursuing--such as engaging in mountaintop mining removal to get more coal--there's no question that some amphibian species, such as salamanders, will be wiped out. So I think it remains to be seen whether humans alter the way they live and operate in order to stave off these extinctions. In terms of education, zoos and aquariums serve as an excellent conduit to convey scientific information to the general public, though writing opinion pieces in newspapers is another way to reach the wider community on this issue.


Washington, D.C.: Are there plans to herd other kinds of animals like they've done with the amphibians?

Juliet Eilperin: That's a good question. There's no global conservation effort underway on the scale of the Amphibian Ark that I'm aware of, and obviously, amphibians are easier to house because they take up less space (even though they may be complicated to maintain and breed). So it's hard to say whether zoos will do this with other animals in the future.


New York: I believe McCain has an opportunity to siphon off some green votes by emphasizing his pro-nuclear power position (there are many strongly committed Greens who are strongly pro-nuclear). Do you know if McCain will be forceful with this, or will he parse his rhetoric?

Juliet Eilperin: McCain talks about the need to expand our nuclear power capacity in nearly every speech he gives, so it's safe to say that he will be forceful on this topic in the general election. It's also important to note that Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) doesn't oppose nuclear power outright, but he has said we need to address key issues such as where we will store the waste.


Warrenton, Va.: Ms. Eilperin,

My name is Ann Gutierrez and I am an owner of the Rainmaker Conservation Project in Costa Rica. Several years ago, our property, was found to have, a thought to be extinct population of the Atelopus varius, commonly known as the Harlequin Frog. Despite the fact that many zoos support a program of captive breeding, Costa Rica (and many other countries)do not have any regulation for a re-introduction of a captive bred spieces into the wild, and many end up being euthanized. It seems to me, that despite heroic efforts to save the diminishing populations, the possibility of re-intoducing them into the existing habitat, especially in Costa Rica, seems to condemn them to a death sentence until the reason for their extinction can be resolved.

Juliet Eilperin: This is a very important point, it's the same problem that the Tanzanian scientists I met with face in terms of reintroducing spray toads to the Kihansi Gorge. If the fungus that helped kill the frogs still exists in their native habitats, then any reintroduction is doomed to failure.


Washington, D.C.: I read the discussion Newt Gingrich had about green issues a few weeks ago and he came out against both the cap and trade and the carbon tax. He gave a reason for the former in that he didn't think such a scheme with so many players would work (like it did for reducing S02) and that it would be rife with corruption. How valid are those criticisms?

Juliet Eilperin: Well, I'm not sure how Gingrich would impose a price on carbon if he opposes both a cap and trade system and a tax. I know he opposes a mandatory cap and trade system, in part because it would be bureaucratic, which is a valid point. However, I don't see why this would lead him to oppose a carbon tax. Of course, it seems unlikely that lawmakers will be willing to approve a new tax in the current political climate, which is one of the reasons why all the remaining presidential candidates back cap and trade.


Juliet Eilperin: OK, I'm signing off now, but thanks for all the good questions.


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