Imminent logging threatens toad habitat near Nakusp, BC

Western toad near Summit Lake, BC. (Photo: Kerri Martin)

Western toad near Summit Lake, BC. (Photo: Kerri Martin)

Vancouver – The BC government has approved logging near Summit Lake, 14 kilometres outside of the Village of Nakusp in the core habitat of the western toad – a federally listed species of special concern. Last week, road building began in core toad habitat but was halted by locals who have blockaded the access road.

Each summer over a million toadlets migrate from Summit Lake across a dangerous highway into forested habitat, where they forage for four or more years until becoming adults and returning to Summit Lake to breed. Numerous government bodies including the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI) have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into building a “toad tunnel” to ensure safer passage for these at-risk amphibians. MoTI has stated that the Summit Lake toad migration is “among the great wildlife migrations in the world.”

According to a review by local biologist Wayne McCrory with the Valhalla Wilderness Society, the “best practices” logging guidelines for toads have too many uncertainties.

“Claims to log and maintain core toad terrestrial habitat for Summit Lake are on very shaky ground. For one thing, no one knows exactly where the one million or more toadlets that just migrated into the areas to be logged are actually spending the winter hibernating,” McCrory said.

Drawing on toad studies elsewhere, McCrory concludes: “The best way to protect this provincially significant population is not through questionable logging practices but through expanding the current proposed Summit Lake Park to include the core forested toad habitats on the mountain. All of Summit Lake and the lower south side are already approved for park expansion. Why not include the core critical toad habitat on the mountain as well?”

For the past five years there has been an annual Toad Festival at Summit Lake, where hundreds of volunteers carry toadlets cross Highway 6 so they won’t be squashed by cars. The numbers of toadlets are so great that when they travel, they look like a moving carpet.

Despite the acknowledged importance of the area to the toads, the Village of Nakusp – which owns the Nakusp and Area Community Forest – is moving ahead to log core toad habitat. Approximately seven cutblocks will be logged in toad habitat once roadbuilding is complete.

“Western toad populations have undergone dramatic declines in the southern part of their range, which makes the Summit Lake western toad population very important,” said Gwen Barlee, Policy Director with the Wilderness Committee. “It is crazy that you have the BC government investing hundreds of thousands of dollars to save the toads, and then you have the BC Ministry of Forests allowing the destruction of core habitat of the same toads.”

The BC government’s Management Plan for the Western Toad recommends that as much forest habitat as possible be maintained “adjacent to breeding sites to allow for hibernation, foraging, and other essential life functions.”

Government scientists acknowledge that the Summit Lake region is one of the key breeding areas for western toads in the Kootenay region, if not the entire province. Experts estimate that just one per cent of western toads survive to adulthood.

“What Nakusp residents are asking for is responsible logging,” said local resident Debbie Pitaoulis. “It isn’t responsible to log in the core habitat of the western toad. What is tragic is that the latest and largely successful toad tunnel inadvertently forces the toadlets into an area that is going to be logged – like cattle going into the chute.”

British Columbia is one of just two provinces in Canada, the other being Alberta, that has no provincial endangered species legislation. BC has the most biodiversity in the country, with over 1,500 species at risk.

Western toads near Summit Lake, BC. (Photo: Kerri Martin)

Western toads near Summit Lake, BC. (Photo: Kerri Martin)