Awarded to Valhalla Wilderness Society towards improve knowledge relating to the ecology and populations of the Western Toad and to reduce mortality along Highway 31A.

PROPONENT: Valhalla Wilderness Society

DESCRIPTION: The western toad has been extirpated from large areas of its historic range in North America. Federally it is a species of ‘Special Concern’ , and provincially it is ‘Yellow-listed’ by the BC Conservation Data Centre. BC is fast-becoming the ‘global keeper of western toads’ due to severe population declines occurring in other regions. Locally, toads have become an iconic species in the West Kootenay. The annual cycle of adult and toadlet migrations is a significant phenomenon that captures the public’s attention in our region.

This project aimed to enhance the long-term survivability of the western toad population within the Fish/Bear Lakes wildlife corridor along Highway 31A in the face of increased summer traffic, commercial backcountry recreation tenures, adjacent logging on private and public land, and climate change. From previous project research, project leads have learned that direct highway mortality to migrating adults and toadlets is an important threat and conservation concern on Highway 31A. With support from the RDCK Local Conservation Fund, this project translated research findings into on-the-ground mitigation activities.

OBJECTIVE: Project objectives were to: 1) Continue collaboration with the Ministry of Environment to finalise the design and costs of two concrete box culvert underpasses to secure safe passage for toadlets; 2) Conduct night monitoring and removing breeding adult toads observed on the 2km stretch of highway at Fish/Bear Lakes to contribute to information and data including numbers killed by traffic; 3) Survey north of Fish/Bear Lakes along London Ridge to document toadlet migrations in the alpine; 4) Work with the University of British Columbia – Okanagan to model population dynamics related to our adult toad counts related to toad mortality factors and potential benefits of underpasses at Fish/Bear Lakes; 5) Deliver public outreach to local residents and tourists who visit the Fish Lake Rest Area using a variety of means; 6) Work with Kootenay Connect providing information and expertise using toads as a focal species for designing connectivity corridors linking Kokanee and Goat Range Provincial Parks; and, 7) Summarise seven years (2015-2021) of research into a Final Research Report that includes a long-term mitigation and management plan for western toads in the Fish/Bear Lakes area.

MESSAGE FROM THE PROPONENT: If you build it, they will use it.” That’s the conclusion reached by the Valhalla Wilderness Society (VWS) after seven years studying the migration patterns of baby toads (called “toadlets”) along Highway 31A at Fish and Bear lakes. Once toadlets have matured along the lakeshores, they are ready to begin their terrestrial phase of life in surrounding forests and their inner compass leads them to cross Highway 31A en masse by the thousands. To protect them on their journey, VWS researchers are working to prevent large numbers of toadlets from being squashed by vehicles on the highway during their migration from the lake. “Over the years, we have made careful observations of which direction the toadlets move as they leave Fish Lake,” said VWS biologist Wayne McCrory. “After seeing positive results with our temporary fencing, we installed permanent PVC fencing throughout the Fish Lake picnic area and along the highway. The fence has worked like a charm, and since its installation has guided 100,000-130,000 toadlets to safety over five years.

PHOTOS: Top row by Marcy Mahr/Bottom row by Wayne McCrory

Video overview (short version) of this project – 4.24 minutes

Video overview (full length) of this project – 8.15 minutes