It was a muddy but memorable stint for two conservation-minded Chilliwack teens.
Sasha Tuttle and Spencer Goss spent two weeks over spring break combing the local wetlands for the endangered Oregon Spotted Frog.
The 17-year-olds were hired by Fraser Valley Conservancy to shadow junior biologist Aleesha Switzer and conduct exploratory searches in Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Agassiz, and Hope.
They were given training and equipment to check traps, survey habitat and count all the amphibians they could find.
“We were looking for areas that seemed like they would make good habitat, realizing that there really aren’t a lot of these spaces left,” said Switzer.
It’s actually been a “wonderful” year for OSF breeding, she noted, with the warmer than average temperatures, and they’ve recorded some the highest numbers to date for the critically endangered frogs.
The frog population is down to about 400 breeding adults.
“In one spot where the students were trapping, on Seabird Island in the Chaplin wetland, we found evidence of successful breeding after putting in new frogs,” she said.
That is all good news, but the recent warming trend also has a downside.
“The warm weather and especially the mild winters mean less water, and so the egg masses are at risk of drying out.”
They added water in some spots to keep egg masses hydrated, after recording a 16-cm drop in water levels in some spots.
Climate change is impacting the numbers of the OSF, which only remains in a few pockets of the Fraser Valley.
The project resonated deeply with the environmentally concerned youth.
“It definitely was a cool experience,” said Spencer Goss.
“Conservation is something I’m passionate about and this fuelled the fire. I definitely feel changed.”
The experience made him realize he really wants to be part of the “movement” towards environmental conservation. He was paid for the work, but would have done it as a volunteer.
“We need to preserve these species,” he said. “But it’s not just about the frogs disappearing, it represents the destruction of the wetlands all across the Fraser Valley.”
Sasha Tuttle underlined that people don’t realize that these sensitive frogs are a “keystone” species, and if threatened, it will affect others down the line in terms of trying to maintain biodiversity.
Tuttle also enjoyed learning more about the OSF habitat, which it turns out is ideal if the water is shallow, and there is lots of vegetation around, like a ditch for example.
“I do hope when people read this, and hear about the work, that they’ll be more open-minded about the need for conservation,” she said. “It’s one big chain, so the loss of habitat and the frogs are a warning sign basically.”
The students were “a huge help” on the FVC project, counting the frogs and other amphibians and looking for egg masses, Switzer said.
The whole project marks a critical shift “in how we think about environmental issues as a community,” she said.
“Sometimes it may seem silly to do all this work for a single frog population until you see just how many species benefit from having wetlands. It’s everything from birds, to bugs, otters and bears.”
Hiring the young people had a specific purpose.
“We’re looking for that next voice, as up-and-coming leaders of Chilliwack, to become the spokesperson for these frogs,” Switzer said. “My dream is to have created two frog people.”