Fraser Valley Wetlands Wildlife

This project focuses on two flagship species for B.C. wetlands. The Oregon spotted frog is Canada’s most endangered amphibian, with fewer than 300 breeding individuals in the wild. Without intervention, it will almost certainly disappear. Meanwhile, the western painted turtle is B.C.’s only remaining native pond turtle, and the Pacific Coast population is dwindling.

The freshwater ecosystems of B.C.’s Lower Mainland have been severely impacted by pollution, runoff, climate change, invasive species and large numbers of predators such as raccoons. At least one species native to the area, the northern Pacific pond turtle, has already disappeared from Canada, while others have dropped to such low numbers that their only hope of surviving rests on direct, hands-on conservation.

The recovery plan for Oregon spotted frog calls for conservation breedingheadstarting and release to re-establish viable populations in at least six sites. Wildlife Preservation Canada began coordinating these efforts in 2010, adding a conservation breeding program to the headstarting work taking place at the Greater Vancouver Zoo. This expanded on the breeding efforts underway at the Vancouver Aquarium.

Meanwhile, an ongoing mark-recapture program and extensive egg mass monitoring by our recovery partners is tracking the success of this initiative. Young are being used both to increase the size of existing wild populations and to establish new ones at appropriate sites where the species had been lost.

In 2012, we expanded our work to include the western painted turtle. In order to save this population, experts recommend protecting nests, artificially incubating eggs, headstarting young turtles for release and establishing a conservation breeding program.

Accordingly, we began salvaging western painted turtle eggs from nests at high risk — such as those on gravel boat ramps — and headstarting them. We also began collecting adults found living alone or in such small groups that effective breeding was unlikely. These turtles form the nucleus of a conservation breeding population. We headstart hatchlings for at least a year, until they are too large to be eaten by their major predators: bullfrogs that have been introduced to British Columbia.

As of fall 2016, we have reared and released over 560 Oregon spotted frogs and 200 western painted turtles. Initial results suggest these individuals are thriving in the wild. A 2015 survey turned up an unexpectedly large number of healthy young turtles that we released the previous year, while the frogs that we released into a restored, formerly unpopulated wetland have begun breeding there.  In 2016, we successfully bred western painted turtles for the first time, resulting in 14 hatchlings.  Our outreach efforts also expanded in 2016 to include a pilot program for Turtles in the Classroom, where individual classes take a hands-on role in rearing and caring for 10-15 turtles which are released at the end of their school year.
Ramping up our conservation breeding program for each species will allow us to release more frogs and turtles, significantly increasing wild populations and restoring them to historic areas. In the coming years, we also hope to use the techniques from our western painted turtle program to reintroduce the Pacific pond turtle to Canada.

Andrea Gielens
Lead Biologist

Andrea has been volunteering with wildlife since she was 13 years old, when she began helping at a local centre for orphaned wildlife, bottle-feeding young deer, raccoons and squirrels. She holds a Master’s degree in ecology from Royal Roads University, as well as a Bachelor’s degree in biology with a focus on zoology and animal behaviour. She has worked at zoos both in Canada and in the U.K., first with primates and small cats and later with the Oregon spotted frog. She has also studied pack dynamics and social behaviour among African wild dogs.
In 2011, Andrea spent a year in the amphibian and reptile department of Wildlife Preservation Canada’s U.K. sister organization, the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in Jersey. There, among other things, she learned how to treat conservation colonies infected with the deadly chytrid fungus that has been wiping out amphibian populations worldwide. Andrea coordinates our B.C. Wetlands Wildlife project, as well as our work with Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly recovery.

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