By Andrew Mitchell
For the past two summers the Whistler Biodiversity Project has collected, counted and confirmed the existence of hundreds of native and non-native species of plants and animals in Whistler, both to make a comprehensive inventory of what’s here and to identify any rare or invasive species that may require special attention.
On Friday, June 22, project leader Bob Brett and herpetologist (amphibian expert) Elke Wind confirmed the presence of red-legged frog tadpoles on the southern edge of Whistler. The species are on the provincial Blue List as a vulnerable species, and protected by provisions of the B.C. Wildlife Act. Special care has been taken to relocate and protect species during the Sea to Sky Highway Improvement Project, as the wetland dwellers have been discovered throughout Sea to Sky.
Brett said he always suspected that the frogs were present in Whistler, but it was a matter of looking in the right place.
“We did a lot of trapping in valley bottom ponds over the last few years and so far we hadn’t found them anywhere in Whistler,” said Brett. “We know they were being found in more and more places around the province and people look for them, and we knew they’re in the Pinecrest area because of the highway work. We just weren’t looking in the right places.”
Leslie Anthony, a local herpetologist and ski writer, made the first red-legged frog discoveries while hiking in the area last fall, but Brett needed to confirm the presence of tadpoles to confirm the year-round presence of the species. Confirming the first sighting was important, said Brett, to create a conservation strategy.
“When looking at amphibians, what you want to do is to protect every single wetland in an area they were found — you can’t monitor one area because the populations move between bodies of water. The density of ponds in this area is amazing, it’s a pine forest on broken basalt ground, and there are hundreds of little ponds that could be good habitat. The pond where we found the red-legged tadpoles was maybe 20 metres long and five metres wide.”
The red-legged frog reaches a maximum length of about seven centimetres, and is named after the red colouring on the underside of their hind legs. They prefer coastal forests, and breed in shallow ponds and slow-moving streams that are shaded, but they also spend a lot of time on land when the weather is damp.
In addition to confirming the presence of the red-legged frogs, Brett and Wind also conducted a survey of ponds on the Whistler Valley Golf Course and Nicklaus North Golf Club. Brett said that those wetlands are healthy habitat for all kinds of species, but no red-legged frogs were discovered.