Feature Story                                                                                  Friday, August 14, 2015


Light at the End of the Tunnel

Ryder Lake proud of its new $120k migration culvert

Staff/Voice photos/Revised


Dignitaries from Lafarge Canada and Langley Concrete flank Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz for a ribbon-cutting ceremony last weekend at the new amphibian crossing. Biologist Darren Brown from Lafarge Canada, second from the right, spoke extensively with The Voice about projects the company is involved in. Below, biology student Crystal Brennan was happy to get out in the field this summer.


ow did the toad cross the road? Up until recently, with much difficulty. That is, until Fraser Valley Conservancy (FVC) joined forces with Langley Concrete and Lafarge Canada and TD Bank to build a tunnel under Elk View Rd. so the diminutive frog, about the size of a dime, could navigate from the wetland to the forest.


Even though it was just a hop and a skip from where the western toads hatched to where they migrated to overwinter, many weren't making it because they had to cross the relatively busy Elk View Road.


On Saturday, FVC held what they called “Toad Fest” to give the community a chance to check it out and learn a bit about the endearing project that has captured the attention and hearts of so many throughout the Lower Mainland.


Crystal Brennan is a biology student and very happy to get some practicum-type work experience before heading for her final year in the fall.


“The toad tunnel is basically a crossing structure culvert, specially designed for the western toads to be able to cross the road because every year they have a mass migration,” Brennan told The Voice at Ryder Lake Hall. “They actually breed in these little ponds in the area, as well as five other amphibian species like red-legged frogs, chorus frogs and a couple of different species of salamanders, and they all really need help right now for their population, so it's a really important area for these guys.”


FVC installed a video camera and at the height of the migration, counted around 1000 toads and hour inside the tunnel.


Once those numbers were in, the group realized the tunnel had made an 85-per-cent reduction in their mortality rate.


“We saw a giant spike on our graph and it was probably the most exciting day we had in a long time,” said Neilson.


This year, due to the unseasonably warm weather, the migration came early, and so by the time the ribbon was cut by dignitaries on Saturday, the amphibians had already passed through it, corralled by fencing which volunteers constructed.


Here toady, gone tomorrow. By the time of the ribbon-cutting, the frogs had already moved on.


The passage is about six feet wide, twenty feet long and three feet high, and costs approximately $120,000 to construct. Locals lovingly refer to it as “toad tunnel”. While it's only used twice a year by the Western Toad everyone involved  feels it is money well spent because the species is actually on the endangered list, despite being a few hundred thousand in numbers.


Three manhole-type of windows allowed the frogs to see as they headed up the bank guided by the directional fencing and through the tunnel up into the forest.


Historically, the task of saving frogs in Ryder Lake dates back to 2008 when teams called “Bucket Brigades” would go out with pails and pick them off the roads by hand and move them.


This tunnel is setting precedents around BC. Ryder Lake isn’t the only area around the province with the problem. FVC is hoping with the success of this project, others groups will model their projects after it.


John Vissers (L) holds an oversized cheque in the amount of $10,000 brought to the site by David Redford (R), VP of Lafarge Canada, who also made the huge donation. FVC president Joanne Neilson is in blue. Joel Shimozawa P. Eng, Technical Marketing Engineer for The Langley Concrete Group (R) is in green. Below, a special cake was cut into back at Ryder Lake Hall.


Just to bring the project to fruition, there were a number of different people and groups involved including John Vissers, FVC President, Joanne Neilson and Executive Director, Kendra Wilson, as well as Brett and Heather from local Toronto Dominion branches and the TD Environmental Fund Foundation.


Also on hand, was David Redford, VP of Lafarge Canada, who was a key piece of the puzzle. He called the project “a very steep learning curve” for them because they know about construction, but not about frogs.


Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz was also a big supporter.


“Our grandma's used to tell us that 'if you look after the little things, the big things will look after themselves,' and it's really true, and today, this is just a poignant example of that,” she said.


Joel Shimozawa, P. Eng, Technical Marketing Engineer for The Langley Concrete Group who donated these giant culverts, and Darren Brown, M.Sc., Manager of Environment and Public Affairs, from Lafarge stitched it all together with some beautiful concrete work.


“We were approached by Lafarge,” explained Shimozawa. “We sort of have a long-standing history of working with them, so they wanted to partner up for this project, and of course we jumped on the opportunity being a local Chilliwack business.”


Darren Brown, M Sc., Manager of Environment and Public Affairs, Lafarge Canada, is a FVC board member which made working with the well-known company easier.


“I used to work for the City of Abbotsford, and when I started work with Lafarge a couple of years ago, they were looking for a community investment project that followed under a company criteria of; environmental, sustainable construction and educational,” he said. “The FVC had been trying to get this crossing happening. So, when I spoke with the vice president at the time, he was very excited and enthusiastic to become involved.”


Brown said they worked closely with Langley Concrete over the course of 1.5 years.


Lafarge has an employee volunteer program and their crews were excited to be a part of the amphibian culvert project because it differs from what they typically do on a day-to-day basis in asphalt and paved construction.


The tunnel also had to include overhead lighting grates so the toads would enter it.


“It's all custom-made with special modifications," he said.


When asked why the cost was so high, Brown explained that there is a lot of preparatory work involved.


“We brought our people in to do the construction, which took three days, plus there was the earthwork involved in the installation of the culvert,” he explained.


The company also works with Fisheries and Oceans Canada occasionally, who help them look for opportunities that fall under their environmental and sustainable pillars.


Such was the case when Lafarge learned about the Mossom Creek Hatchery in Port Moody that burned down a couple of years ago.


“We just finished rebuilding it. Again, this was the same kind of opportunity,” he explained. “Our idea is, we're part of the community as well, so it's important for us. We have the expertise and had the opportunity to get involved in them. There are two things that we've worked on; the Mossom Creek Hatchery; Coastal Painted Turtle Program both on Texada Island and in Maple Ridge/Mission to develop spawning areas for the coastal painted turtle. So that's gone really well.”


The capital costs for that project Brown says were about $140,000.


“We actually built beach habitat for them. In a lot of our aggregate operations, we produce sand which is perfect for the turtles to create their nests in. So, we donated that as well as volunteer time to come out and get our shovels in the ground.”


“We have good connections with groups like the South Coast Conservation Program and with the Ministry of Environment and Fisheries and Oceans Canada. who we keep in close contact with us," said Brown. "We're always interested in being part of those and in for the long haul. They're genuine when these opportunities come up, and they just want to get involved. So it's great for an environmental and biological scientist to work for a company like that.”


Lafarge also made a huge $10,000 cash contribution on top of all the work that they did on the toad crossing.


Project Biologist Morgan and Neilson are paid staff so the money will be used to cover wages.


“We've probably already spent it. Whenever we get unrestricted cash donations, it usually ends up going to our staff wages because that's one of the hardest things to take care of,” said Neilson. “We're going to be doing some work in Yarrow this fall so we're kind of wrapping up this project. Most of our work involves Species at Risk.”


For more information about FVC, visit www.fraservalleyconservancy.ca   



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