An environmental group that was hoping for a temporary road closure to help migrating Western toads will have to make do with warning signs instead.
At the end of June, A Rocha Canada asked the Township of Langley to implement a two-week temporary road closure on 20 Avenue between 196 and 200 Streets to help stop the carnage that occurs when cars run over the tiny creatures, which are about the size of a dime.
Each year in late June and early July, tens of thousands of the toadlets migrate from breeding ponds in two former gravel pits at 18 Avenue and 196 Street northeast to other areas of Langley and Surrey.
Council sent the issue back to staff who determined it would be too complicated to close down the road.
That section of 20th Avenue is a collector road, and traffic would have to be redirected to 16 Avenue and 196 Street, where many accidents have occurred, a staff report states. The City of Surrey would have to sign off on it as well.
Instead, the Township will put up signage to warn motorists about the toad migration, and A Rocha is installing wildlife fencing to help herd them into certain areas.
A Rocha, an organization based in Surrey that has done environmental work on the Little Campbell Watershed, has been monitoring the toadlet migration for five years, and has seen anywhere from 30 toads in 2015 to 96,000 in 2017.
The difference in the numbers has to do with the three-to-five year breeding cycle of the females.
“This is the only location where we have found Western toads to be breeding, and we’ve looked in about 30 other different potential habitat wetlands throughout the watershed, and this is the only place we’ve found them,” said biologist Christy Juteau, who spoke to Township council on behalf of A Rocha Canada on June 25.
The Western toad is a species at risk, and is of special concern federally.
Its population is declining, especially throughout the United States. Its main threat is habitat loss, followed by road crossings, Juteau said.
Coun. Charlie Fox asked Juteau if warning signs would be appropriate instead of a road closure.
“Not really, because if you’re in a car, and the toadlets are covering the road, you just wouldn’t have a chance to miss them. So they may be aware, but they’ll just listen to them squishing underneath them,” Juteau said, adding that people often use 20 Avenue and 196 Street as a short cut to avoid the light at 200 Street and 16 Avenue.
“I think awareness is a great idea, raising awareness, and we’ve been in touch with all the landowners in the area, so they’re quite aware,” Juteau said. “But I think people who zip through from 200th to 16th …We’d like to avoid those people. Local residents, it’s OK, it’s not very high density… If we could avoid those others who don’t live there to come through, that would be ideal.”
Coun. Petrina Arnason noted that the City of Chilliwack also had a road closure for toads, and eventually built a toad underpass instead.
“I’m very supportive of this,” she said.