Helping Herpetofauna in the Long Point World Biosphere Reserve and the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve
– Submitted by the Association of Wetland Stewards for Clayoquot and Barkley Sounds
The Long Point World Biosphere Reserve, situated on the north shore of Lake Erie, has several things in common with the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Both are located in remarkable ecosystems and encompass long uninterrupted beaches, sand dunes, wet meadows, woodlands, marshes, streams and shallow protected bays. Their diverse habitats provide world-renowned refuges and stopovers for migrating birds in fall and spring. Another thing they have in common is a problem. Large numbers of herpetofauna are killed on the main access roads travelled to reach each of these Biosphere Reserves.
A 3.6-km two-laned paved causeway joins the mainland to the Long Point sand spit that juts into Lake Erie. The causeway, first built in 1926, fragments what was once continuous wetland habitat, in an incredibly productive area. Consequently, the causeway takes its toll on hundreds to thousands of frogs, turtles, and snakes trying to cross it each year.
A 32-km two-laned paved highway crosses the coastal flats and leads people to Tofino at the heart of the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Highway 4 separates lush forest and wetland habitats that frogs and salamanders move between seasonally. The death toll on it also ranges in the hundreds to thousands each year, most of it occurring in a 1.6-km section 500 m from a 4-ha wetland.
With similar mandates to conserve biodiversity and promote sustainability within their Biosphere Reserves, both the Long Point World Biosphere Reserve Foundation and the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust are involved in helping to find solutions that will reduce roadkill and reconnect habitats across their roads. The Long Point World Biosphere Reserve Foundation is coordinating a multi-partnered Long Point Causeway Improvement Project that, among other things, aims to provide passageways that will give wildlife the opportunity to move safely under the Causeway. The Clayoquot Biosphere Trust is helping the Association of Wetland Stewards for Clayoquot and Barkley Sounds reach a similar goal on Highway 4. The Wetland Stewards just installed an experimental amphibian passageway in collaboration with the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, last spring.
Barb Beasley, Chair of the Association of Wetland Stewards for Clayoquot and Barkley Sounds traveled to Long Point to meet with Rick Levick, Coordinator of the Long Point Causeway Improvement Project in November. They spent an afternoon comparing notes about each other’s projects. Here’s a summary of some of the things they shared.
Learning where species are being killed:
Both projects involve extensive surveys of the highway to find out where animals are most often killed. Surveyors clad in safety vests walk slowly, recording the location, species, age and sex of each animal, alive or dead on the road. Live animals are coaxed off the road and dead ones are removed so that they won’t get counted twice. Consistent protocols have been used at each site over time. Long Point has the longer time period covered – the first surveys there were done in the late 1970’s. The Clayoquot counts began in 2001. The results of these surveys help to pinpoint where to install mitigation structures.
Number of herpetofauna species killed:
Clayoquot has seven species – two frogs, four salamanders and one snake. Long Point has 17 species – seven frogs, five turtles and five snakes! There simply are a lot more species of turtles and snakes living in the warmer, drier climate of Ontario than along the wet coast of B.C.
Several of the species killed on Long Point’s causeway are listed as species at risk. Only one of Clayoquot’s species is listed.
Type of species most often killed on the road:
Frogs are killed most frequently in both places. In Clayoquot, the Red-legged Frog (Rana aurora) tops the charts, at Long Point it is the Northern Leopard Frog (Lithobates pipiens).
Approaches taken to reduce mortality: signage
Long Point folks began by installing signs to make drivers aware of turtles crossing. Rick feels that the signs really help the turtles – he has watched several drivers stop and move turtles off the causeway, especially during the daytime. Rick says that they had to switch from using crossing signs that showed a cute turtle drawing to ones with just words. The signs with turtles were constantly being stolen.
The Clayoquot folks have never installed signs, although one overzealous volunteer once chalked out the word “feed”, and replaced it with “squish” on the “It is unlawful to ____ wildlife” sign in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve! Frogs and salamanders are small and difficult to see, especially because they move at night. Barb thinks signs would be ineffective at reducing roadkill on Highway 4, but agrees that they would increase public awareness of the problem.
Both projects have installed barrier fencing to prevent animals from crossing the road and becoming roadkill. At Long Point the 3-km of fencing has reduced roadkill on the causeway by about 50%. Clayoquot’s fences are set up in three discrete 90-m sections and frogs and salamanders caught along each fence are carried across and released on the opposite side of the highway. Over 500 animals have been carried across each year since 2005. This is two to five times more than the numbers killed in 90-m unfenced sections of road. It appears that many amphibians successfully avoid the cars when they cross, but it may be that their carcasses don’t last on the road long enough to be counted. The Clayoquot project is focused on finding out whether their passageway works, before they install more fencing.
In both places one of the main concerns is the durability of fences. Long Point Causeway gets a lot of snow and wind so they’ve positioned the fences several meters from the side of the road. It only takes a little bit of snow-blowing equipment to flatten fences on the side of Highway 4, so Barb thinks she will follow Long Point’s example and place future fences further away from the edges of Highway 4.
Each project wants to restore connectivity by installing passageways that will allow wildlife to move safely under the roadways. Both Rick and Barb are considering the results from other projects around the world to design culverts and tunnels that have features important to their species of concern – large enough interiors to let in lots of light, good airflow, and natural substrates. There also have to be enough passageways to handle dispersal along the entire length of road.
The Wetland Stewards and the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure installed a carefully chosen pre-cast concrete box culvert with funnel guiding fences at Highway 4 in May 2011. Now, they are busy monitoring how well it works. Barb has images of frogs, salamanders, mice, mink and even a black bear moving through it, but, so far, the numbers of frogs and salamanders are not as high as expected. They will continue monitoring to see if more amphibians begin to use it over time.
Preparations are underway to install three passageways under the Long Point Causeway in 2012. They will include two alternative types of terrestrial culverts – a precast concrete box culverts and an open grate culvert. These will be monitored to compare how well they function.
Rick was interested in seeing the sequence of photos showing the steps and timing of the Clayoquot culvert installation. He was happy to learn that traffic delays were managed smoothly and only lasted a few days.
The Long Point and Clayoquot Sound projects provide great opportunities to test and compare a variety of approaches for conserving biodiversity in Canada. Being part of a network of biosphere reserves helped the people involved in these projects to connect and learn from each other. It will also help them share information more widely.
To learn more visit: www.longpointcauseway.com and www.splatfrogtunnel.blogspot.com