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Operation Spadefoot: RCPP in Action

Operation Spadefoot in RI

With just one population of eastern spadefoot toads left in Rhode Island, which hasn’t reproduced since 2014, the species is on the verge of disappearing from the Ocean State, according to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM).

This rare toad has bulging eyes and short legs, with a spade-shaped protrusion on its hind feet that enables it to burrow into sandy soil – in a spiral – where it stays moist and cool, and out-of-sight from predators.

The spadefoot reproduces only under very specific environmental conditions involving just the right amount of sunlight and water in vernal pools – conditions that haven’t been met in more than five years in Rhode Island.

University of Rhode Island (URI) herpetologist Nancy Karraker and research associate Bill Buffum are trying to avert the spadefoot’s extirpation by building new wetland habitat for them in several communities around the state.
Calling their project “Operation Spadefoot RI,” Karraker and Buffum are building the right kind of ephemeral pools the toads require for breeding.

“In May 2015, we brought together more than two dozen volunteers to build the first two pools not far from the state’s historic spadefoot toad population in Richmond,” said Buffum.

The first of these man-made breeding pools was installed on property owned by the Richmond Rural Preservation Land Trust, funded in part through the  Natural Resource Conservation Service’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).

Partnerships at work

Partners include the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), URI, DEM, the Rhode Island Natural History Survey, The Nature Conservancy, Roger Williams Park Zoo, the Rhode Island Conservation Stewardship Collaborative, the Beech Tree Foundation, and the Richmond Rural Preservation Land Trust.


About the RCPP project

The URI RCPP project is funded under a 2015 five-year cooperative agreement with NRCS entitled Partners Protecting Source Waters of RI. The total project budget of $224,998 includes NRCS funding of $112,449, and a matching URI contribution.

“The goal of the agreement is improved water quality and wildlife habitat in Rhode Island through expanded adoption of conservation practices near riparian areas that address eight natural resource concerns related to inadequate wildlife habitat, soil erosion and plant condition in riparian areas,” said Chris Modisette, NRCS State Resource Conservationist.

To address these resource concerns, URI is encouraging landowners to implement conservation practices to support four priority activities, one of which is creating vernal pools to provide habitat for amphibians.


The Regional Conservation Partnership Program is a partner-driven approach to conservation that funds solutions to natural resource challenges on agricultural land. By leveraging collective resources and collaborating on common goals, RCPP demonstrates the power of public-private partnerships in delivering results for agriculture and conservation.

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