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Amphibian dedication nets Chilliwack man 'superman' award

“It’s nice to see the recognition,” Clegg told The Progress about the Superman award from Fraser Valley Conservancy.   - JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS FILE
“It’s nice to see the recognition,” Clegg told The Progress about the Superman award from Fraser Valley Conservancy.
— image credit: JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS FILE

Ryder Lake resident Steve Clegg was flattered to be recognized for his work protecting endangered toads and frogs.

The Fraser Valley Conservancy presented him with the 'Superman Award' last month.

Clegg received a gift and a plaque in recognition of his "super-human dedication" to the amphibians of Ryder Lake and "his endless enthusiasm promoting conservation in the Fraser Valley."

It's particularly timely now because the juvenile Western toads of Ryder Lake are starting their annual migration this week.

"It's nice to see the recognition," Clegg told The Progress about the award. "It's a very strong feeling when you do something you believe in for a long time, and others show you that they share those same values," he said.

Clegg started volunteering with FVC in 2008 to help with the Ryder Lake Amphibian Protection project. He's not a biologist by training. He's now employed as an environmental services specialist for the City of Chilliwack.

"I would put myself more in the naturalist category," he said, about his interest in toads and frogs.

His degree is in geography and environmental studies.

As a kid growing up in Ryder Lake, he always noticed the creatures that populated the area.

"I grew up here. So for all intents and purposes, they're right in my backyard," he said.

Migration for the toadlets is always risky because they strive to get from a rearing pond, across the roads and into Ryder Lake.

The species range from Western toads to red-legged frogs, but the juveniles migrating now are toads.

As an adult, Clegg became aware of the serious conservation challenges they were facing.

It was a struggle for them to make it safely over the road.

"I strongly believe that all creatures have an inherent right to exist," he offered.

So it became vitally important for him to try to secure their future so they would still exist as his own children grew.

The amphibian project used local road closures during migrations, and nighttime monitoring to help reduce toadlet and frog mortalities.

His aim was finding the main migration corridors, with the goal of eventually building a wildlife crossing structure for them to travel unharmed.

Clegg was hired and worked for the non-profit, and then reverted back to volunteering his consulting services when the funding disappeared in years previous.

FVC executive director Joanne Neilson called Clegg their "eyes on the ground" because he lives in the middle of amphibian habitat.

"We have been through a lot of turmoil," she said about changes to the FVC. "We couldn't have done it without him."

She said it's hard to maintain permanent staff in the non-profit sector, as funding levels can vary a lot.

"Steve was able to offer some real consistency. He's a real conservation-minded individual who is good at spreading the message in a positive way. He's so passionate."

Clegg was involved in the migration inventories as well.

"Steve was able to provide all of this historical knowledge as well as the nuances."

The FVC is in the process of designing and installing an amphibian crossing structure to divert migrating toadlets under the road, but it won't be installed until after the 2014 migration.

"He even built a test structure to see if it would work," she added. "Even when there was no one to support him with resources, Steve still wanted to seek solutions to the problem on a volunteer basis. So he's been a huge resource for us."

Locals are being asked to detour around a stretch of Ryder Lake Road and Elk View Road between peak migration times of 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.

To find out more contact the FVC at 604-625-0066 or projects@fraservalleyconservancy.ca.

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