CHS Blog

Conservation Wins for Canadian Reptiles and Amphibians

August 28, 2020
James Paterson

We could all use some good news right now.

In conservation, work can often feel like an uphill slog with species declining and wild spaces disappearing. But, it’s important to recognize that among the sad stories, there are good news stories sprinkled in the mix, too.

I want to celebrate some conservation wins for Canadian reptile and amphibian species.

1. Herb Gray Parkway in southwestern Ontario

The new Herb Gray Parkway in southwestern Ontario leads to the busiest land border crossing between the Canada and the United States of America. The parkway goes through the communities of Tecumseh, Lasalle, and Windsor and intersects one of the last areas of tallgrass prairie in Canada. Many reptiles and amphibians, including Eastern Foxsnake and Butler’s Gartersnake, live in the Ojibway prairie complex, and environmental groups were rightly concerned with plans to expand the roads leading to the large Windsor-Detroit border crossing. A huge collaborative effort from consultants, academics, government, and First Nations came together and achieved some serious wins for Canadian reptiles and amphibians (and many other species!).

The project is one of the largest snake conservation and research initiatives in Canada and included long-term monitoring and research, translocating snakes out of construction sites, installing extensive networks of fencing to keep snakes off roads and safe from machinery, and building an underpass and overpass for snakes. The crowning achievement for connecting populations of snakes in the project is a 100 m wide eco-passage which crosses over Hwy 401 and is planted with native tall-grass prairie vegetation (shown in the above picture). The crossing features microchip readers that record when tagged snakes use the crossing. The eco-passage has helped connect fragmented habitats and Eastern Foxsnakes used the crossing structure within a month of it opening. In addition, the project included increasing the amount of habitat by over 300 acres in a busy urban setting.

Click the picture for a video.

To learn more, check-out the great documentary about the project here: 

2. Northern Leopard Frog reintroduction program in Alberta and British Columbia

The Northern Leopard Frog is one of Canada’s most iconic frogs and occurs from British Columbia to Nova Scotia. Populations in western Canada declined sharply in the 1970’s and 1980’s from habitat loss, drought, and disease.

A collaborative team, including the British Columbia Northern Leopard Frog Recovery team, the Alberta Environment and Parks led advisory group, and Parks Canada, has been working to prevent British Columbia and Alberta from losing this species. Working in partnership with organizations like the Vancouver Aquarium and the Calgary Zoo, 1000’s of eggs and tadpoles have been reared in captivity and released since 2003. The release program has focussed on returning frogs to parts of their range where they have been extirpated. The program has brought back Northern Leopard Frogs to several sites, such as the Upper Kootenay floodplain in British Columbia, where frogs have successfully overwintered and reproduced.

Reintroductions are difficult and costly, but this project has demonstrated that collaborative release programs can help bring species back to areas they’ve disappeared from.

3. King’s Road seasonal closure in Burlington, Ontario

Mortality from vehicle strikes is a large threat for many reptiles and amphibians, including endangered Jefferson Salamanders. On rainy spring evenings, Jefferson Salamanders migrate from woodlands to temporary ponds where they breed. Starting in 2012, King’s Road in Burlington has been seasonally closed to allow salamanders to safely move to-and-from their breeding ponds. Reducing mortality for these salamanders is important for this long-lived species, which can live up to 30 years.

4. Chorus Frogs* in Quebec

For many of us, the “CREEEAK” of chorus frogs signal the beginning of spring. Unfortunately, these frogs have declined in eastern Ontario and Quebec and the Great Lakes / St. Lawrence &emdash; Canadian Shield population of Western Chorus Frogs* was listed as Threatened in 2010 under Canada’s Species-at-Risk Act.

An emergency order was initially requested in 2013 and denied. The change was largely the result of work from Nature Quebec and the Centre Québécois du Droit de l’Environnement (CQDE), who started a judicial review that resulted in a request for the Minister of the Environment to reconsider an emergency order.

In 2018, the emergency order was challenged in court by the developer, but the Federal Court rejected the arguments and upheld the order. As a result, chorus frogs are still singing from the ponds in La Prairie. This case is significant because the SARA has never before been used to halt habitat loss on private land.

The dedication of volunteers, scientists, non-government organizations, and government is helping conserve reptiles and amphibians, but there is always more work to be done. It is important to celebrate conservation successes, even small ones. Let us acknowledge what is working to conserve species and learn from approaches with less success so that we invest our time, energy, and money wisely.

* Yeah, I know, it’s complicated. Most documentation, including the emergency court order, the Species At Risk Act, and the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) refer to these frogs as “Western Chorus Frogs (Pseudacris triseriata) Great Lakes / St. Lawrence – Canadian Shield population”. Recent genetic evidence (e.g. Lemmon et al 2007) suggested the chorus frogs north and east of Lake Ontario may be Boreal Chorus Frogs (Pseudacris maculata), and genetic research is ongoing in Ontario to help address this taxonomic question.

Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre

Turtles plus roads are a bad combination. Every year, thousands of turtles in Ontario are struck by vehicles as they cross roads in search of nesting sites, mates, or their favourite pond or swamp. Many turtles survive the initial injury but need medical care to survive and recover after. 

The staff and volunteers at the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre are dedicated to caring for injured and sick turtles, and most of their patients are victims of vehicle strikes. By using volunteer “Turtle Taxis”, the team helps injured and sick turtles from across Ontario reach their centre, which is located just outside Peterborough, Ontario. Turtles are released after recovering and the transformations are impressive!

The centre is the only wildlife rehabilitation facility dedicated to turtles in Ontario. Since 2009 they have treated and released more than 2,500 turtles. They also have very active field research and public outreach programs that complement their rehabilitation work.

Learn more about their work and

The list is by no means comprehensive. Do you know of other conservation wins for Canadian reptiles and amphibians? Write to The Drift Fence with your blog contribution!