The great divide 

Upgrades make highway safer for people in vehicles, but wildlife are paying the price

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For months you could see the dried outlines of red-legged frogs killed crossing a stretch of Highway 99 that was once wetland and scrub.

It's likely hundreds of this species at risk were run over as they followed a migratory path that used to be safe in the wetland area near Pinecrest, just 15 minutes south of Whistler.

They are a casualty of the $600 million upgrade to the Sea to Sky Highway, which started in 2003.

Under the new Pinecrest design two kilometres of the road, which was widened to four lanes, was jogged east, away from the communities of Pinecrest and Black Tusk. According to an environmental assessment report prepared by the Sea-to-Sky Highway Improvement Project in May of 2005 if the new larger road was to be built residents wanted it moved away from their front doors due to concerns about increased noise, contamination of water supply, and safety.

However, moving the road meant paving over part of a wetland.

And, although final survey results aren't in yet, the steps taken by the highway developer, the B.C. Ministry of Transportation (MoT) and the Ministry of Environment to help the amphibians that live with the highway in the wetland area survive, don't seem to have worked.

They include building passageways under the highway and installing short netting fences along the edge of the road to guide the frogs into the tunnels.

"My sense of it is that they are not working very well for frogs," said Joshua Malt, an ecosystems biologist with the Ministry of Environment.

"I did... surveys and walked the highway and counted dead frogs and I counted over 200 amphibian mortalities in the summer season, from spring to fall.

"However, the actual number is likely to be much larger."

The frogs cross the road to get to the other side. When hundreds of new tadpole metamorph into frogs they go in search of new habitat because there are too many to stay where they are.

You can pave over wetlands to make roads but wildlife has to be moved. In this case over 1,000 frogs and other creatures were collected and moved in 2007 to a nearby wetland area. Hundreds of frogs were marked so they could be tracked.

More area is to be added to Brandywine Provincial Park as compensation for the loss of the wetland. It is not within hopping distance.

As you drive along the Pinecrest section you can see the mesh fencing, like mosquito wire, about 16 inches high, in some places. Closer inspection shows the bottom is not back filled and gaps exist at ground level. The top is not cupped so that any climbers would fall back. Several culverts ranging in size from one-metre to three-metres were also installed following Best Management Practices for Amphibians and Reptiles in Urban and Rural Environments in British Columbia (WLAP 2004) under the highway to facilitate the movement across the road.

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