By Elke Wind
Did you see a bunch of people wearing rubber boots that went all the way up to their hips wandering along the Valley Trail this past summer? Maybe you saw them standing in a nearby stream, flipping rocks and holding nets in their hands? Or, you may have ridden past on a golf cart as they were pulling traps out of a pond dripping with water, plants, and algae? As you passed, they may have been taking photos of something they were looking at in a bucket and you might have thought to yourself, “I wonder what those people are looking for…?”
Well, you may have been witness to a group of people with a common interest, and perhaps a similar quirky nature when it comes to adventures of an amphibious kind.
This past summer a group of four naturalists and biologists, three native to Whistler and one alien from Nanaimo, embarked on a mission to locate and identify the amphibians found within the RMOW. The crew threw on their very fashionable and flattering amphibious attire, including gumboots, hip waders, and chest waders, and headed out to explore the local wetlands, lakes, golf course ponds, and streams to survey for critters that many people may never see in their lifetime even though they live right in their own back yard. Why is that? Is it simply that they’ve just never looked? Well, we did, and what we found was very interesting. The critters weren’t just fascinating to us because we are bio-geeks, but because these animals are living right in the urban environment.
Aren’t amphibians supposed to be declining and very sensitive to environmental change, acting as indicators of environmental health? We can’t help but wonder, how long will they survive here and at what point will the pressure of urban development be too much for them, forcing them to exist only in the outer limits of the valley or perhaps beyond?
That’s exactly what we want to find out. It is our goal to develop an amphibian monitoring program within the RMOW to determine how well these animals are actually doing, by identifying which populations may be at risk and the potential factors that may lead to local extirpation. We know from studies done elsewhere that landscapes that become highly fragmented by agriculture, urban and industrial development, roads, and resource extraction can negatively affect local amphibian populations. Few towns and cities can boast about the native wildlife they have living right in their own neighbourhoods.
The benefits to human health of having nature and wildlife right next door have been well documented, especially for children, and frogs and other amphibians are some of the first animals that people remember learning about as kids off on adventures of their own. This study will help ensure that future generations of Whistlerites may also enjoy the sounds of frogs calling in the spring and witness healthy wetland and stream communities where amphibians can do what they’ve been doing since before dinosaurs roamed the earth.