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'Kootenay War of the Toads'

Residents have blockaded a logging road near Nakusp as the “Kootenay War of the Toads” heats up.

The construction of a two-kilometre road is set to begin imminently, which will lead to seven recently approved cut blocks near Summit Lake.

The logging operation will interfere with what the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has called one of the “great wildlife migrations in the world,” according to a biologist in the area.

Wayne McCrory, with the Valhalla Wilderness Society, says the area around the lake is prime habitat for the western toad, a federally listed species of special concern.

“The toads spend 95 per cent of their life there, because they really just go down to the lake in the spring to breed, then they move back up to the mountain,” McCrory said.

More than one million toadlets make their exodus from the lake to the forested area, where they spend four years maturing.

The existing logging road into the area has been recently snow-plowed in preparation for building a new road, says McCrory. 

“Some people went and blockaded and set up an information booth, which they’re still doing,” McCrory said.

Nakusp and Area Community Forest, a logging company owned by the Village of Nakusp, says it has researched the issue of the toads at Summit Lake and taken steps to mitigate impacts.

These steps include harvesting in the winter to avoid migration season, improving existing forestry roads to allow for easier mobility of migrating toads and protecting riparian zones in the cutblock areas.

“Despite the reassurances, nobody’s believing, myself included, that building two kilometres of new road with a big V-8 cat is not going to turf up hibernating toads and toadlets and cause some mortality,” McCrory said. “There’s so much guesswork and so much uncertainty, we shouldn’t be putting this provincially significant toad population at risk just for the sake of some logging dollars.”

The western toad plays a big part in the local community, and an annual Summit Lake Toad Festival has been held for the last five years.

During the late summer toad-breeding season, hundreds of people come to the lake to help bucket the toadlets across Highway 6 and into the lake, to prevent a toad-squashing massacre.

Additionally, the Ministry of Transportation has installed a ‘toad tunnel’ under the highway to allow for safe passage of the turned-on toads.

“The toads are a big deal, it’s a huge public relations success,” said McCrory. 

“They’re very important keystone species to the ecosystem,” he added. “They eat a lot of insects, they’re a food item for birds and crows and ravens, and garter snake and otters and all kinds of other things, and so they’re an integral part of the whole ecosystem.”

Advocates for the amphibians are proposing an increase to a government-proposed expansion of Summit Lake Provincial Park. The proposal includes an area that borders the proposed logging blocks, but McCrory would like to see it go farther.

“We’re proposing that be expanded to include about another 660 hectares of what we call ‘core terrestrial habitat,’ and that’s where 95 per cent of the toad population spends most of their time,” he said. “The logging rights were granted before we had all this information about how significant this proposed logging area was to the toads, and now we realize that the timber tenure should never have been granted in the area.”

He suggests the 660 hectares be logged somewhere less contentious.

“This way everyone can come out smiling, especially the toads.”

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