Did you know that the lakes and wetlands around Cumberland and throughout the trail network support breeding populations of Western Toads? Every summer countless tiny toads take part in an EPIC migration from local wetlands and lakes, across trails and roads, upland into the forest.
 
The Western Toad is a species of conservation concern. Western Toads are federally listed as Species of Special Concern by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) because they are especially sensitive to human activities, climate change, and other changes in the environment. They are also Yellow listed by the BC Conservation Data Centre.

Habitat

Western toads use three different types of habitat: breeding habitats (lakes, ponds, wetlands), terrestrial summer range (forests), and winter hibernation sites. Western Toads spend much of their time underground and shelter in small mammal burrows, under logs, and within rock crevices. Hibernation burrows are up to 1.3 meters below the frostline.

Migrations

Western toads have three main migrations. The first two are in the spring when adults move to and from communal breeding sites. The third migration is in the summer when tiny toadlets leave the lake for upland habitat. Toadlets tend to migrate in the daytime and after summer rain events. This makes them vulnerable to human activity on roads and trails.

Breeding

Females reproduce every 1-3 years but some only breed once in their lifetime.  A single Western toad can lay up to 16,500 eggs in two intertwined strands which they attach to vegetation in the water. 99% of toadlets won’t survive to reach adulthood.

Metamorphosis   

In the warm shallow water the eggs quickly develop into tadpoles that swarm in groups of hundreds or thousands of individuals. After a few weeks, a hormone in the tadpole’s thyroid gland initiates metamorphosis which turns a tadpole turns into a toad! Its an amazing transformation.

Tiny Toads Crossing   

Once they’ve fully formed into tiny toadlets, they leave the shallow water. Dense aggregations of toadlets are found hidden along the shore of breeding sites. Soon after you will see tens of thousands of tiny toads (smaller than a dime) leaving Allen Lake and other water bodies and crossing busy trails in the Cumberland network.

Toad Threats

Western toads are especially sensitive to human activities including habitat loss and fragmentation, trampling, climate change, development, forestry and other changes to the environment. Diseases like amphibian chytrid fungus and predation from invasive species like Bullfrogs also pose threats.

Save the Toads!

Trail users are asked to watch for signs and check the CCFS & UROC web and social media for updates about the migration so they can plan their route accordingly. Research and data collection, alternate trail routes, toad tunnels, road and trail closures/detours, and drift fencing are all management actions that can help save the toads. As we learn more about our local Western toad populations, we can become stronger advocates to protect their habitat and their annual migration.

Please don’t handle the toads

In addition to being a species of special concern, which means they can only legally be handled with a permit, all amphibians have sensitive skin. Western Toads can absorb oxygen through their skin which means that any residue on our hands  (lotion, sweat, bug-spray, sunscreen etc.) could be absorbed into their bodies (and could be fatal!). 

Western Toads also have poison glands (in large warts behind their eyes), which secrete a milky liquid when the toad is stressed/handled. This will not harm humans, but it does deplete important water reserves for the toad, especially on a hot day!.

 DID YOU KNOW? Some communities shut down entire parks, trails, and roads during the peak migration period (e.g., Summit Lake near Nakusp,  Lost Lake Beach in Whistler, Ryder Lake in Chilliwack).  
WANT TO GET INVOLVED?
Join the Tiny Toad Patrol to build community knowledge about our tiny toads and advocate for management actions to support their migration!
Email Heather at heather@cumberlandforest.com

How to spot a Western Toad

What is the difference between toads and frogs? Well, for starters, all toads are frogs, but not all frogs are toads. Confused? Don’t worry! While it may be easy to get toads and frogs mixed-up, there are a few tell-tail characteristics. Toads have dry, rough and warty skin, and are generally more stocky and ‘clumsy footed’ than frogs. In addition to warts, dry skin, and a clumsy gait, Western Toads have a light line along their mid-back (though it may be lacking on the smaller toadlets). The toadlets are tiny – about 10 mm in length but they sure can hop! Adults grow to 60-120mm in size.

Western Toad Project 2022

A long cool spring has meant a later start for the Western toad migration this summer but the Village of Cumberland, United Riders of Cumberland and Cumberland Community Forest Society are working hand in hand to build local knowledge about the annual migration and how we can reduce our impacts!

The Village of Cumberland is currently engaged with LGL Environmental Research Associates on a year long study called Western Toad Occurrence and Distribution: Village of Cumberland. The purpose of this study is to establish the current distribution of Western Toads in and around the Village of Cumberland, and in the vicinity of Allen Lake (and other Village water bodies). This will put the relative importance of Allen Lake for local and/or regional Western Toad populations in a regional context and inform any possible mitigation measures going forward. United Riders of Cumberland have developed an awesome alternate routes map and fun trail signage to keep trail users up to date about the migration and other trail options within the network. Their website is also a wealth of information about Western toads and why we’re working together to protect them! The Cumberland Community Forest Society is developing educational materials, an iNaturalist project to track densities, and utilizing social media and organizing a trail head information booth for the duration of the migration to inform trail users in person about the migration, and the alternative routes within the network.

Western Toad Project 2021

In the summer of 2021 the Cumberland Forest joined forces with local biologists, bikers, hikers, and amphibian fans for a Western Toad Project. Together we: 

a) observed and documented their behaviour through a citizen science platform called iNaturalist, b) built community knowledge about local ecosystems and this species of concern, c) implemented communications strategies to reduce human impacts on the population and, d) helped the toads migrate more safely across high traffic roads and trails.
Thanks to the 40 + volunteers – including all of the reconnaissance and toadlet hunters who sent in pictures, google pins and reports of toad sightings. Thanks to UROC for installing trail head signs and to the Village for closing impacted trails within the park. At the info booth we engaged with hundreds of trail-users, many of whom spread the word even further.  And importantly – it worked. People changed their behaviours. Bikers re-routed, trails were closed, and a big migration was made a bit easier. It wasn’t perfect – but it was pretty incredible.

Our effort in 2021 has already had impacts, and discussions are underway with the Village to begin to mitigate the human impacts (trampling, erosion, trail braiding) of folks looking for the “Cumberland Potholes” below the Perseverance Creek crossing on the Davis Lake Main.  Whenever possible we need to remind folks that Perseverance Creek is a toad migration hotspot, fish habitat, drinking water source and a biodiversity corridor that should be handled with care. The phenomenon of over sharing, travel blogs and instagram ‘hotspots’ has highlighted this spot and we have work to do as a community to keep it safe.

Thank you so much, and we hope that you find a way to celebrate these accomplishments, and the role that you played in them. (Maybe do a little hop of your own?)

Join our Tiny Toad Patrol. We will be coordinating a Volunteer Naturalist Program where trained community volunteers provide information at key access points to the network to let them know about the status of the migration including current roads and trails impacted. Please fill out our volunteer application form or email heather@cumberlandforest.com to get involved.