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‘Toad ambassadors’ sought for Fish Lake project

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A conservation project to study and save western toads at risk of being run over on the Highway 31A corridor between Kaslo and New Denver is asking for help.

Amber Peters, a biologist with the Valhalla Wilderness Society, says they are now in the eighth year of the project and seeking “toad ambassadors” who can spare a few evenings for a “regionally significant” breeding population.

“This time of year we start getting floods of western toads coming down from the mountains,” she says.

“We are out there moving them off the highway and collecting data because they need to breed in Fish Lake and cross the highway again when they’re done. It’s basically carnage if we’re not out there.”

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Peters says a single female holds an average of 13,000 eggs, so it’s “really important to stop them from getting squished by cars.”

Being a toad ambassador involves patrolling portions of a two-kilometre section of the road between Fish and Bear Lakes. Training is provided, and then there is a shared calendar where Peters says they try to cover as many nights as possible during this “major migratory and breeding season.

“Once people are trained up and know how to properly handle the toads and collect basic data, they can go out with their friends as well as many times as they wish as long as they have proper safety gear.”

However, it’s an after-dark effort, because that’s when adult western toads are on the move. They begin at sundown at the Fish Lake rest stop, which is presently 8:45 or 9 p.m. Shifts vary depending on how busy things are, but Peters says they usually stay until 11:30 p.m. One night they kept going until 1:30 a.m. because there was a major migration spurt.

Peters says May and June are the heaviest migration periods, but there are also significant migrations into July and August, and their survey will likely continue as late as October.

At the beginning of July, the eggs will start hatching and floods of toadlets will begin travelling along a migration fence at the Fish Lake rest stop. But other breeding areas in the same corridor lack that sort of infrastructure.

“It’s a significant effort to get new culverts to make that happen,” Peters says. “At times we need help bucketing these little toadlets across the highway as well.”

Peters says the vast range range the toads and toadlets cover is “absolutely phenomenal.” While some toadlets migrate and hibernate closer to the lake, others have been discovered at high elevation.

“Every year we’re starting to find them in more areas,” she says. “It’s the same breeding population, it seems, but some even go up to the alpine. We’ve found toadlets 7,500 feet up and across this broad expanse.”

Peters says being a toad ambassador is a fun community effort. If you want to get an up-close look at the species, you can contact her at amber@vws.org.

She adds that the project is part of efforts to preserve biodiversity in the corridor, which they fear the proposed Zincton Mountain Resort would place at risk.

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