Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Dear Friends of Conservation,
This fall I had the opportunity to visit TLC’s Caromar Covenant in the Cowichan Valley Regional District. Flourishing with a diverse range of species, Caromar is home to a 5-acre wetland and a large assortment of fungi including the fluted black elfin saddle (Helvella lacunosa). While monitoring last year we came across a young toad which happened to hop in front of our path while we were hiking.
The Western toad (Anaxyrus boreas), is a species listed as Special Concern under the Species At Risk Act (SARA) and the only International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red-listed amphibian in Canada.
Western toads are unique creatures – they are the only amphibian native to Haida Gwaii and one of the few amphibians that live in alpine areas. They require standing water to breed but spend 90% of their lives in terrestrial habitats, like the forest of Caromar.
The Western toad breeds rapidly and produces a large number of offspring which can result in widely fluctuating populations – in years when conditions are favourable, huge numbers of toads can survive and the species can appear very common. However, they can also have bad years. Due to a lack of data, their current status is somewhat unknown but studies show population declines in southern B.C. This year we were not able to observe any during monitoring.
Degradation and loss of habitat are serious factors, particularly in the Greater Vancouver and Victoria where 75% of wetlands are gone. As the remaining populations become more fragmented, they are more vulnerable to chance events and more likely to be wiped out by unfavourable climatic conditions. Long-term monitoring is therefore essential to get accurate estimates of population sizes and trends.
Western toads return to the same breeding sites year after year, even when other potential sites are available, making the continued protection of their habitat even more crucial.
Caromar is 68 acres of relatively undisturbed wetland and second-growth forest, however even this Coastal Douglas-fir ecosystem contains habitat devastating invasive species and litter; we noted ridges of Scotch broom and collected an old tire and a discarded toaster on one of the more well used trails.
As TLC’s Covenant Manager, it’s my responsibility to oversee the monitoring and enforcement of our covenant portfolio to protect these ecologically-rich places for the diversity of species that call them home. With more than 240 covenants covering 12,768 acres in communities throughout the province that is actually quite a feat to manage!
To better fulfil TLC’s purpose, I train volunteers to assist us and other land trust partners in covenant monitoring and invasive species removal techniques. While volunteers have always been at the heart of TLC, our partnership with them through our restructuring journey has been a blessing. This year 217 volunteers have aided our Covenant Program.
I have been fortunate to bring our volunteers with me on our monitoring visits to various conservation covenants and am often impressed by how much we learn from one another. Further, with the additional help of volunteer groups like the Greater Victoria Green Team and the Highlands District Community Association, we removed more than 1,440 m3 of Scotch broom, ivy and other invasive species from covenant areas, roadsides and parks.
In 2016, with the assistance of partnering organizations and 881 volunteer hours, we have monitored more than 93% of our covenant portfolio. We have accomplished a great deal, but our work continues. On December 10th I will be monitoring TLC’s De Mamiel Creek Covenant in Sooke. We trained summer interns from the Cowichan Community Land Trust in the art and science of covenant monitoring at De Mamiel Creek earlier this year, but returning this winter will give us the opportunity to witness any seasonal changes that may occur.
In the CRD there are an estimated 205 species at risk. These include the great blue heron, northern red legged frog, and the peregrine falcon, which can all be found in habitats protected by TLC covenants. At TLC we are privileged to have an eco-conscious community supporting our work, however protecting the natural environment requires persistent monitoring.
You can make a profound difference for at risk flora and fauna like the Western toad. We need your help to continue monitoring and restoration work required to protect ecologically sensitive covenants for all species. Funds are needed to cover the cost of restoration tools, monitoring equipment, transportation, staffing and supporting our volunteer network.
If you are interested in volunteering for covenant monitoring or restoration projects I would love to hear from you. We have an invasive species removal work party scheduled for December 17th at our Atkins Road Covenant. Please contact me at 250-479-8053 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
Your financial support and volunteer efforts are essential as we continue to enhance our Covenant Program. Thank you for your support and dedication to protecting important habitat throughout B.C.