Preparing for large toadlet migration at Fish Lake

Submitted by the Valhalla Wilderness Society

The Fish/Bear Lake Western Toad Ecology and Hwy 31A Mortality Mitigation Study is funded in part by the Kootenay Lake Local Conservation Fund to enhance the survivability of both adult toads and toadlets at the  mountain pass of Fish & Bear Lakes wildlife corridor along Highway 31A in the face of increased motorized use of the highway and the threat of climate change. 

August 8, 2019 – With the onset of hot weather, tens of thousands of tadpoles at Fish Lake are now congregating near shore as they begin to metamorphose from life underwater to life on land, magically turning into tiny toadlets. The next summer rains are expected to trigger the first migrations. Instead of being slaughtered by the thousands trying to cross busy Highway 31A, the little toadlets will be able to migrate safely along the newly completed migration fence that guides them from the lakeshore to Goat Creek where they can travel along a wooden bridge under the highway and continue safely on their way up the mountain side to hibernate.

Last year, biologists with the Valhalla Wilderness Society (VWS) estimated 18,000 toadlets migrated on the first day of heavy rains in late July. Although the migrations are happening later this year, biologists are expecting the same high volume of toadlets on the move.

In order to assist the toadlets at Fish Lake in their big journey, VWS biologists have been experimenting over the past four years with different designs for a toadlet migration fence.  The current model of 10-inch and 6-inch green PVC pipe cut in half is practical, durable and aesthetically pleasing. The final design of the 300 m fence was approved this spring by the Ministry of Transportation and Highways (MOTI), with some improvements to the location being made through the rest stop to better accommodate the thousands of visitors that stop there, many to view the toadlets migrating along the diversion fence.

“We still have some complex things to work out with MOTI including how to design a permanent toadlet bridge when they replace the old Goat Creek highway bridge.” said project biologist Wayne McCrory. “We are also concerned about how future highway snow removal will be handled since snow plowing practices up there must change in order to help protect this new fencing and the riparian habitat along Kaslo and Goat Creeks that are critical for safe toadlet migration.  We are meeting with MOTI and YRB soon to hopefully work out a long-term conservation solution”.

“Public support for the toadlet migration fence project at the Fish Lake Rest Stop has been outstanding,” said senior researcher Marcy Mahr. “We are also grateful to the many volunteers who came out night after night during the adult breeding migration this spring and helped us move over 450 breeding adult toads off the highway.”

If you are interested in volunteering this month to help toadlets cross the highway between Fish and Bear Lakes at areas where there isn’t fencing, please contact Cindy Walker (katakwak@hotmail.com). People who come on their own with children to move toadlets across the highway are strongly advised to wear bright colours and orange safety vests, and to be careful of the high speeding motor bikes that race through the area. Also, be sure to check carefully you are not moving young frogs, which do not migrate. Frogs hop while toadlets crawl.

This year VWS biologists will also be finalizing the design and cost estimates for two toad tunnels and directional fencing that are needed under the highway at the middle and west end of Fish Lake to reduce the road mortality of migrating adult toads.

Valhalla Wilderness Society’s western toad research project at Fish and Bear Lakes is supported by the Columbia Basin Trust, Kootenay Lake Local Conservation Fund, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, and VWS’s donors.

The Kootenay Conservation Program (KCP) in partnership with the Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK) provides funding for projects that benefit conservation in the rural areas around Kootenay Lake through the Kootenay Lake Local Conservation Fund (KLLCF). The purpose of the KLLCF is to provide local financial support for important projects that will contribute to the conservation of our valuable natural areas; one step towards restoring and preserving a healthy environment.