The water level of the amphibian pond was dropping quickly during the early spring heat wave.
So Steve Clegg of Ryder Lake, along with family and friends, pulled off a somewhat tricky transfer.
They gathered all the tadpoles they could find from the upper pond, scooping them gingerly into pails, with nets and buckets, and transported them down the hill to their new home, in the lower, year-round pond.
“While some people were watering their lawns last week, I was watering the amphibian pond with collected rainwater to keep it from drying up,” said Clegg.
The tadpoles had wriggled themselves deeply into the muddy water to keep cool and survive.
As a kid growing up in Ryder Lake, Clegg was always fascinated by the various aquatic creatures he found in his backyard — from endangered western toads, to red-legged frogs, pacific chorus frogs, to salamanders.
As he grew older, he sought ways to maintain the integrity of the ecosystem in his rural neighbourhood. He worried about the mortalities the various species at risk were suffering, just trying to cross the road during their migrations. Urbanization and growth of Ryder Lake, he noted, had fractured and bisected the habitat.
He started volunteering in 2008 with the Fraser Valley Conservancy’s Ryder Lake Amphibian Protection project, to work with other like-minded folk.
Back then they were focused on trying to protect the thousands of migrating toadlets from being constantly run over, with efforts like voluntary road closures, and detour routes.
In 2014, he earned the ‘Superman Award’ from Fraser Valley Conservancy in recognition of his “super-human dedication” to the amphibians of Ryder Lake and “his endless enthusiasm promoting conservation in the Fraser Valley.”
Their crowning glory was the amphibian shelter crossing, or toad tunnel structure, they built under the road. The tunnel was unveiled last year, as the work of an inspiring partnership of agencies and volunteers.
At the Clegg residence, they are doing their own bit for toad conservation by building a good habitat for them, in the form of amphibian ponds.
Clegg started digging out a pair of ponds back in March.
The top pond, close to the house, fills up nicely during the rainy season, he found out, but it dries out again as spring arrives and heats up.
“Even though this was the first year that we dug out the upper pond, we found it was just loaded with different types of amphibians,” Clegg marvelled.
This spring they found toads, frogs and salamanders had moved right in.
Because it was drying up so rapidly, they had to move quickly. A group of more than 10 area residents, including several children, came to help. They arrived at the Clegg residence on May 14, ready to jump into action, get muddy, and assist with the tadpole transfer.
It was a learning experience for everyone, and they pulled it off as a team of neighbours.
Clegg has been keenly interested in the various struggling amphibian populations in his neighbourhood for years, so helping the baby toads, frogs and salamanders with the pond transfer was not a stretch.
The stewardship work he has undertaken over the years attracted the interest of B.C. environmental group Wilderness Committee, who are working on a documentary called Toad People. The film will feature the tiny western toads of Ryder Lake and the caring community members, like Clegg, who’ve stepped up to protect them.
“Toad People is an inspiring new documentary film project produced by the Wilderness Committee about people in communities across British Columbia who are taking action to save the wildlife in their backyards,” according to the filmmakers.
They successfully crowdfunded more than $17,000 to finish the documentary.
Toad People tells the story of juvenile western toads, and other frogs, that migrate several times a year, from the Ryder Lake wetlands where they were born, to the forested areas where they live.
The work being done by wildlife supporters, like the Ryder Lake residents, is seen as extremely valuable.
“Because despite having some of the most diverse wildlife in North America – including 1,900 species at risk – B.C. is one of only two provinces in Canada with no endangered species law.”
More than half of all amphibian species in B.C. are at risk.
“They’re struggling because of habitat loss — especially loss of wetlands — as well as road mortality, invasive species such as American bullfrogs, pesticides, climate change and disease.”
Ultimately, it’s about the fierce conservation spirit.
“A story about hope” is the film’s tagline.
Toad People co-director Isabelle Groc said they’re aiming to finish the documentary film by mid-September, and will likely organize a local screening.
“Steve is the reason why the film concept happened,” she said. Wilderness Committee has shot nine films about species at risk, and most follow the work of local biologists.
They’d heard about Clegg’s impressive efforts to work with the migratory toads in the hills above Chilliwack over the years. Toads are somewhat unlikely poster subjects, being so enigmatic, but that added to the appeal, in terms of the film.
“So the toads become a thread throughout the film, but it’s also about the larger picture of species at risk across B.C.,” said Groc.
Another aspect the filmmakers found very touching was the multi-generational aspect of the Cleggs’ interest in conservation.
Steve Clegg’s father, Dick Clegg, is a veterinarian who works with endangered barn owls of the Fraser Valley, and Steve’s two young daughters are always eager and willing to help with the toad projects.
“It was interesting to see a family so involved this way, and that’s how the idea for Toad People was born,” she said.
The film is also about showcasing those who have come together to help the creatures.
“We call these wildlife defenders, Toad People,” according to the Toad People website info. “This film isn’t just about people standing up for toads. It is about people across the province who are stepping up to protect mountain caribou, badgers, songbirds and many other species at risk.”
Video: Toad People