From a young age, 12-year-old Sam Ibold has not been afraid to handle wildlife.
When he was 8, on a Cub Scout trip to Camp Lewis in Rockaway, the boy grabbed a garter snake off the ground and paraded it around.
“He’s that type of kid,” said his father, Matt Ibold.
So, on a recent afternoon, Sam was in his element. He dipped into the duckweed on Verona Lake’s surface and caught snails, turtles and dragonflies. And he released them all.
“I like animals so much, and I don’t like to see anything harmed,” Sam said. “The creatures were here first.”
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That day, however, frogs were a no-show, and so were the boy’s detractors.
Sam has been catching green frogs and bullfrogs by hand or with a dip net at Verona Lake for at least six years. His family lives on Harrison Street, a few blocks east of the bucolic Essex County parkland.
“He enjoys collecting, observing and releasing them,” Matt Ibold said. “Ninety-nine percent of what he catches, including fish, he releases.”
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But for the last three years, Sam has been so bothered by people at Verona Lake about catching frogs that his father had a laminated card printed with New Jersey Fish and Wildlife regulations, so that he could have some proof that he was doing nothing illegal.
The interference isn’t constant, Matt Ibold said.
“But it’s been with such intensity that it’s inappropriate,” he said.
Sam keeps the rules in his pocket, along with pictures of the amphibians — such as green frogs and bullfrogs — that he can catch.
Lawrence Hajna, a spokesman for the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, said anyone with a fishing license can take 15 green frogs or bullfrogs daily. Sam doesn’t need a license because he’s under 16 years old.
There are some exceptions. Green frogs and bullfrogs cannot be taken between April 1 and June 30, because it’s their breeding season, according to the state agency. And certain endangered species cannot be taken, ever.
And the amphibians also cannot be sold without a Commercial Harvest Permit, which is not a concern for the Ibolds.
But even with the card, the harassment continues, Matt Ibold said. Recently, the father witnessed a woman screaming at Sam that catching frogs is illegal.
“They said, ‘Put that frog back, or else I’ll call the police,’ ” Sam said.
No one has been physically aggressive toward Sam, but his father is worried about that possibility.
“You want to educate people, but they can be closed-minded and emotional when it comes to animals,” the father said.
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Tedor Whitman, executive director of the Cora Hartshorn Arboretum in the Short Hills section of Millburn, is no lightweight when it comes to protecting wildlife or disturbing their habitats.
The arboretum is a New Jersey chapter leader for FrogWatch USA, a national citizen program that monitors frog populations. The arboretum trains volunteers to count frogs in area wetlands.
“Frogs are a good environmental indicator,” Whitman said. “If frogs disappear, there may be something wrong in the wetlands.”
Based on Sam’s story, Whitman gives the boy a pass.
“There’s two ways of looking at it,” Whitman said. “You want people to be interested in science and the natural world to help them become good stewards. At the same time, there’s only so much nature to go around.”
On the lake shore recently, Sam found at least one supporter. Leo Golba of West Orange strode by on the paved path that rings the lake and called out to Sam: “You catch any frogs today?”
A 12-year-old boy catching frogs isn’t anything out of the ordinary for Golba.
“I see kids catching frogs all the time,” he said. “We’ve got some big bullfrogs here.”