How did the frog leap across the road? If it lives in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve on Vancouver Island, well, it may not have to.
The park recently installed three new wildlife tunnels that run below Highway 4, which connects Tofino to Ucluelet on the west side of the island, and allow amphibians to avoid a real-life version of the classic arcade game Frogger.
After figuring out where frogs were unsuccessfully trying to cross, the park buried culverts below the highway and filled them with gravel, soil, logs and branches. They also built fencing to guide amphibians from the forest to the entrance of the tunnels.
The project was funded by the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation and the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.
The work to install the tunnels is both challenging and expensive, said Barb Beasley, founding director of the Association of Wetland Stewards for Clayoquot and Barkley Sounds. But it’s worth it to protect a species that offers so much to its ecosystem, she said.
“They have this really amazing life history, where most of the species start off as tadpoles living in aquatic habitats,” Beasley continued.
At that stage, they’re vital to the surrounding ecosystem, helping to purify the water by grazing on algae, she explained. Once they’ve developed into frogs and moved into the forest, they become important predators of invertebrates.
In B.C., roughly half of all amphibian species are considered at-risk by the federal government due to threats like habitat loss and invasive species such as bullfrogs, according to Beasley.
Her group monitors the wildlife pathways by camera. So far, they’ve seen a range of animals using the path, aside from amphibians, including some of their predators. Mink, marten and ermine have all been spotted in the tunnels, sometimes appearing to hunt.
So, what if those predators simply wait at one end for frogs to fall in their lap, so to speak? Beasley said that was one of their initial concerns — but not anymore.
“The amphibians seem to be able to move through quite easily without being taken as prey most of the time.”
If you’re interested in how to help conserve these cold-blooded critters, Beasley encouraged people to support the protection of wetland habitats and maybe even avoid driving on warm, rainy nights.
Don’t collect them as pets or move them to a different area, which can introduce amphibians to new diseases they’re unable to fend off, she added. And never release bullfrogs into the wild.