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Frogs Leap Through Legal Loophole

Calaveras County's celebrated jumping frogs can leap right through a legal loophole and back into the wild.

Last year, California wildlife officials warned it was illegal to return competitors in the Mark Twain-inspired festival to their natural habitat for fear they could spread disease or alter ecosystems.

But in a twist almost as bizarre as one of Twain's tall tales, officials found an obscure 1957 provision to the Fish and Game Code that exempts frogs used in jumping contests from wildlife rules.

"Frogs to be used in frog-jumping contests shall be governed by this article only," the provision said.

About 2,000 bullfrogs are captured each May for the Calaveras County Fair and Frog Jumping Jubilee in the old Sierra gold mining town of Angels Camp.

For years, organizers urged participants to put the frogs back carefully where they got them. When fairgrounds manager Warren "Buck" King heard that was illegal, he had nightmares about having to slaughter frogs.

"I'm tickled to death about that," said King, the unofficial mayor of Frogtown. "I didn't want to even think about what would happen."

Ed Pert, the Department of Fish and Game's fisheries programs chief, gave King the good news Wednesday.

As a result of the provision, he said in a letter that "it is the department's official position that frogs used in the jumping-frog contest are not subject to the prohibitions on release."

Without the provision, violators would have faced a possible $5,000 fine and a year in jail.

The contest has been an annual event since 1928, when a local club organized the first jump to celebrate the paving of Main Street.

It harkens back to the tall tale Twain heard in the Angels Hotel and published in 1865 as "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County."

By Don Thompson