Eight hundred salamanders and 100 frogs.
That’s how many amphibians were rescued from the Exstew River borrow pit by volunteers last week before it’s is filled by the Ministry of Transportation this month. The pit is known to trap thousands of salmon every year when receding river levels cut off their route back to the currents.
The borrow pit stretches about 20 metres across, 50 metres long, and is at least a metre and a half deep. The Ministry of Transportation dug the hole for construction in the 1970s to use as fill for the bridge spanning the Exstew River.
After 40 years, the Ministry of Transportation has allocated $300,000 from the shelved $57 million vehicle overpass project to fill the pit with 1,000 truckloads of gravel. It’s expected to take between four to five weeks to complete.
Juvenile salmon aren’t the only victims of the pit. Seeking shelter from predators and fast-moving spring runoff, amphibians also move into the borrow pit when it floods from the Exstew. As water levels drop and the pit dries up, these salamanders and frogs find themselves trapped and often die as a result.
Steelhead Society of Northern BC volunteers, along with the Department for Fisheries and Oceans and McElhanney staff, recovered close to a thousand amphibians over the course of six hours on Aug. 2. The frogs and salamanders were then released into streams connected to the Exstew River.
“Many amphibians are threatened in their natural habitat,” says Troy Peters, society president. “Due diligence needed to be done to ensure that very few were destroyed with the filling in of the pit.”
In B.C., more than 50 per cent of amphibian and reptile species are of conservation concern from a variety of threats like loss of habitat, roads and traffic, pollution and disease, according to the province.