A group of passionate community members wait patiently for the go ahead to begin their nocturnal work. Night after night, they wait in the comfort of their homes for just the right conditions, looking for a sign to give them the green light and take to the streets. Then it happens. One drop, then two. Rain begins to fill the empty puddles that left dry and cracked under the long summer heat. Droplets bead across the windows under the glow of the living room lamp. Tonight is the night. Finally, the conditions are right for the fall migration to begin and patient volunteers spring into action. They dawn their waterproof jackets and safety vests, grabbing data sheets, flashlights and field guides as they run out the door. They take extra caution, as they walk out into the dark streets on these wet, slippery nights. And why do they do it? For the frogs of course!
Within British Columbia, federal and provincial agencies list over 60 percent of frog and toad species as being species of concern. The concern being the loss of these species in their natural habitat if sufficient preventative measures are not enacted. The most significant threats to these amphibious creatures include the loss, degradation and fragmentation of their habitat. Most amphibians need to travel between wetland and forest habitats to breed and overwinter, often waiting for wet nights to make their spring and fall migration. As residential and commercial development increases throughout the region, more trees are removed, important wetland habitats drained, and busy streets make travelling across habitats more and more challenging.
Habitat Acquisition Trust (HAT) is a local registered charity whose mission is to conserve nature on south Vancouver Island and the southern Gulf Islands. In order to better understand these threats to our local amphibian populations, more than 200 volunteer hours have been dedicated to counting frogs and salamanders (dead or alive) along roads across the Capital Regional District (CRD) since 2014. Habitat Acquisition Trust has been leading this project as a part of a larger effort to protect amphibians across BC. It is not glamorous work, but with the help of Biologists, Kristiina Ovaska and Christian Engelstoft, they are doing important work that can make a positive difference for our local frogs and salamanders. In just 2 years (2015, 2016), 2,330 amphibians were found on roads across the CRD. This includes seven different species (3 frogs and 4 salamanders), over 75% of which were found dead sadly.
HAT has been collecting this data in hopes that it will drive government action that will mitigate the threat and reduce the numbers of dead amphibians on our roads. Collected data was then mapped to identify hotspots throughout the area where mortality was the greatest. Rough-skinned Newts, in addition to Pacific Tree frogs, are having a particularly rough time on the roads along a short section of Prospect Lake Road bordering a wetland. Thanks to the dedication of HAT volunteer and engaged community member, John Potter, the data has been put in the hands of decision makers and is now being put into on-the-ground action in Saanich.
HAT has partnered with the District of Saanich on a collaborative pilot project this summer that could make a powerful difference for native frog populations, and engage the community in wildlife stewardship efforts. The hardworking staff in the Public Works Division of Saanich’s Engineering Department, led by Street Operations Manager William Doyle have taken the first step in the region by implementing an underground culvert allowing for safe amphibian travel on Prospect Lake Rd. Fencing aimed at funneling amphibians away from the road has been installed and will be monitored for success in the coming fall.
While this is an encouraging leap towards amphibian protection, there is still much to learn on effectively directing amphibians to culverts or tunnels to provide safe underpasses for travelling frogs. Moving forward, HAT will continue to work with local municipalities to find the best solutions to reduce amphibian road mortality and monitor the effectiveness of these underpasses.
HAT also aims to work with local landowners to help restore and protect important wetland and forest habitat through HAT's Stewardship and Land Protection Programs. To help our native amphibians, the public can also report sites where there are concentrations of amphibian roadkill or dead amphibians. If you have a pond or forest on your property, join HAT’s stewardship program to learn how you can support amphibian-friendly habitat and be a part of the solution!
Funding for this project was provided by the District of Saanich, as well as a significant donation from a private donor to HAT, and a grant from Environment Canada's Habitat Stewardship Program. HAT volunteers have contributed over 200 volunteer hours of amphibian counting, and significant contributions of time and expertise from Biologists Kristiina Ovaska and Christian Engelstoft helped in the design and development of the Prospect Lake culvert and fencing project.
Photos: (Main) Habitat Acquisition Trust Volunteers and staff put finishing touches on fences in August to guide amphibians to safe passage beneath Prospect Lake Road. (Top) The first amphibian underpass placed along Prospect Lake Road through this partnership. (Second) Amphibian road survey volunteers tracking hot spots of mortality for frogs and salamanders. (Third) A Pacific Chorus Frog (Pseudacris regilla) on the road. One of the seven different amphibians found during HAT’s road-kill surveys.