Road-side Romances Turn Tragic for Western Toads – Join Toad Watch Today to help #stopthesquish

Photo: Melanie Spinks

Spring has sprung in Revelstoke! The snow has melted, the birds are singing, the flowers are blooming – and the Western Toads (Anaxyrus boreas), have begun their annual breeding rituals. Love makes us all do crazy things, and for toads this means crossing Airport Way as they move between terrestrial and aquatic habitats to mate and lay their eggs during late April throughout May. Airport Way is a highly utilized road for residents and recreationists heading out biking, hiking, quadding and snowmobiling. However, it is also a high-traffic area for wildlife. With the longer days and warmer temperatures of spring and summer months bringing more people out later at night, the chances of vehicle caused mortalities increases for toads and other wildlife who are also more active during this time.

This past week from April 23 to 27, fifteen volunteers from Wildsight Revelstoke’s Toad Watch initiative witnessed approximately 100 western toad road-side romances turn tragic firsthand as these adorable amphibians were struck by oncoming vehicles after dusk from just before Catherwood Road down past the Mount Cartier Recreation Site, spanning nearly 5km along Airport Way. When volunteers first arrive at the check-in at 8:30pm, the roads are quiet with nary a toad in sight – and by 9:05pm toads are popping up all over the pavement, their small glowing eyes reflecting back the light from headlamps and headlights. Each night of Toad Watch has been different, largely influenced by current weather conditions and temperature. Toads are ectotherms, meaning they are unable to regulate their temperatures internally like birds or mammals. Instead they need to warm up using heat sources from their external environment through a process called thermoregulation. On chilly nights like April 27th, which dipped down to 6 degrees celsius, they prefer to stay cozy and cuddle up in the soil. But on rainy nights like Monday April 25th, the precipitation put on a dramatic display of local biodiversity, drawing out common garter snakes, frogs, earthworms, slugs and even coeur d’alene salamanders much to the delight of Toad Watchers.

From Revelstoke Secondary School students to members of the local RCMP, Toad Watchers persevered through rain and stayed up past their bedtimes to lend a helping hand to our local herptiles. However, with the breeding period continuing throughout May, reducing the number of mortalities for this large an area is no small feat and requires community-wide support. Toad Watch volunteers are not only moving toads off the road, they are also tasked with recording data to inform the future installation of a wildlife underpass as well as removing deceased toads from the road to prevent the bodies from attracting other wildlife onto Airport Way. Information collected includes the quantity of toads observed, the sex of the toads, vitality status and direction of travel. After experimenting with various approaches and through trial and error, Wildsight has developed a step-by-step Toad Watch Tutorial on how to record data using the free version of Gaia GPS.

Ways to help

  • Volunteer for Toad Watch. Wildsight Revelstoke needs dedicated Toad Watchers to help us move and collect data on toads throughout May. If you are interested in being an amphibian ally, sign-up to volunteer today by filling out this sheet or contacting Toad Watch is not for everyone, and participants should prepare to witness the gruesome realities of toad mortalities. 
  • First time Toad Watchers must sign a waiver and receive an orientation from the Toad Watch coordinator. To volunteer, meet at the Cartier Recreation Trailhead parking lot along Airport Way at 8:30pm. Download the free version Gaia GPS onto your phone before coming out and read through the Toad Watch Safety Protocols document.  
  • Drive with care: Please be mindful of volunteers walking along Airport Way, as well as the toads and other wildlife crossing the road.
  • Spread the word: If you can’t be there on the ground, do your part and encourage those you know to slow down along Airport Way after dusk to prevent further loss of life and to be mindful of volunteer presence in the area.
  • Donate to Wildsight Revelstoke or offer in-kind support and supplies: Support Wildsight Revelstoke’s Protecting Turtles and Toads initiative through advancing on the ground conservation efforts. Our goal is to deliver a multi-year ecosystem enhancement project to benefit local Western Painted Turtle and Western Toad populations. We have applied to numerous funding organizations and are still seeking supporters. Any contribution is appreciated.

About Western Toads

In 2002, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife (COSEWIC) designated Western Toads under Schedule 1 of the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA), meaning it is particularly sensitive to human activities and natural events. In British Columbia, Western Toad populations have undergone declines as a result of urban expansion, conversion of habitat for agricultural use, and habitat fragmentation resulting from resource extraction and road networks.

About the Project

Together, Wildsight Revelstoke along with a team of knowledgeable experts from LGL Limited, Okanagan Nation Alliance and EcoMosaic Consulting are committed to delivering a multi-year habitat enhancement project to benefit Western Toads and Western Painted Turtles.  This initiative is supported by Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Canada’s EcoAction Fund. Special thanks to Living Lakes Canada and to Emcon for their toad sign donation – and to Melanie Spinks Photography for her beautiful photos. 

A female Western Toad transports a male Western Toad across Airport Way. Photo by Aviva Fialkow
Biologist Marcy Mahr examines a toad mortality along Airport Way. Photo by Aviva Fialkow
Toad Watch volunteers enter a Waypoint into Gaia. Photo by Melanie Spinks.
A Western Toad transported across Airport Way on April 24th conceals itself in the grass. Photo by Melanie Spinks.
A local RCMP officer lends a helping hand at Toad Watch. Photo by Aviva Fialkow
Toad Watchers determine the toad’s sex and record geospatial data. Photo by Melanie Spinks
Female Western Toad. Photo by Aviva Fialkow