VICTORIA – A migration of toads described as a croaking, moving carpet and one of the world’s environmental wonders is dividing a southeastern British Columbia village over forestry jobs and the protection of tiny amphibians.
The western toad migration near the Village of Nakusp attracts tourists every summer to the Toad Festival at Summit Lake, where people fill buckets with the toads and carry them safely across Highway 6 to forest habitat.
More than a million brown toads migrate at once, moving en mass from the lake across the highway to forested habitat where they live for four or five years before returning to the lake to breed.
The B.C. government spent almost $200,000 to build a toad tunnel underneath the highway, which is used by the toads, but many take the overland route and risk death on the highway.
“Hundreds of people go out and help them across the road,” said Kootenay West New Democrat MLA Katrine Conroy who represents Nakusp residents. “It looks like a carpet of toads going across the road, especially these little babies trying to get across the road.”
Conroy said the village of about 1,600 people is conflicted between protecting the jobs associated with Nakusp’s community-run forest company and the possible threats logging poses to the amphibians.
“The community forest licence is an economic driver in a small community like Nakusp, but it’s also a concern for the community because the toads are an endangered species,” she said. “They put a large amount of energy into ensuring those little guys get across the road.”
Nakusp organic vegetable grower Janet Spicer said many of her customers are forest companies, but she’s pushing to have the toad migration route protected from logging.
“This is an extremely special site, holding an extremely fragile animal,” she said. “It is unique in Canada, probably North America and perhaps the world.”
Wilderness Committee spokeswoman Gwen Barlee said the B.C. government is playing Russian Roulette with the survival of the toads by permitting logging and road building.
Forest Minister Steve Thomson said he’s confident the migration route will be protected.
“In my perspective, the community forest is taking all the steps to deal with the presence of the toad and appropriate management of their activities,” he said.
Community forest manager Hugh Watt said he can guarantee Nakusp will hold future toad festivals at Summit Lake.
“I feel we’re being as diligent as we can be,” he said.
Watt said the community forest operation contributed $1.2 million to the local economy in 2014.
He said some local residents and environmental groups are using the toad issue to lobby for expansion of provincial park boundaries at Summit Lake.
“It goes beyond the toads,” Watt said.