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July 25, 2011 From: Patricia Tallman, Ph.D. (Environmental and Water Resources Engineering)
Purpose I am writing this letter to initiate actions for reducing the number of road kill of small wild mammals in the TOL. Since moving to Willoughby, I have witnessed two rabbit fatalities (one adult, one kit) by motor vehicles at the same location, within a 4-week period, as well as third road kill on 80th Ave, 2 blocks west of 208th Street. The site of the first two fatalities is on 83rd ave., between 208th and 209A streets, near the Athenry Gate sign. On three other separate occasions, I swerved to avoid hitting rabbits that were trying to cross the road on 83rd ave., and on 80th ave., between 208th and 202A streets. These six incidents occurred between June 5 and July 23. I suspect that road kill are only symptomatic of an underlying problem: the human-wildlife conflict in urban development. Preface I want to preface my recommendations by commending the TOL’s adoption of the Wildlife Habitat Conservation Strategy (WHCS), and your efforts to establish wildlife habitat patches and corridors for future developing communities within TOL. I also recognize a sincere concerted effort by TOL to implement this Strategy through policies and Bylaw 4682 for the Willoughby Community. However, my above experience is so different from when we were living in Walnut Grove for the previous 15 years, that one wonders if there maybe areas of habitat protection that have been neglected in developing Willoughby, particularly for small animals such as opossums, squirrels, skunks, raccoons, and rabbits, because they can be easily ignored. Since my initial report on June 5, #92315, of the first rabbit fatality with a request for suggested actions, it has taken until July 15 for a response. The essence of the phone call was that nothing can be done from a transportation point of view to mitigate these conditions. Thus, I am submitting this letter with recommendations for the following to be considered by all respective departments in an effort to reduce the number of road fatalities of small wild animals through: i) awareness campaigns, and ii) further wildlife habitat considerations.
Executive Summary Bylaw 4682 (2008) of the TOL, as an amendment to OCP, forms part of a strategy to protect environmental values in developable areas, and as such, includes a policy statement for protecting and enhancing wildlife habitat. As I understand it, the habitat protection and enhancement policy does not discriminate against any species. I was hoping that best management practices (BMP) to accompany the Strategy would exist at the site development level. The habitat patches and corridor provided for in the Bylaw serve the TOL as a whole, but in practice the designated patches may be too sparse to accommodate displacements of local wildlife from their habitat at individual project sites. I was further hoping to see BMP for individual developments to include measures to retain habitat pockets such as: reserving refuge areas for local wildlife to retreat to as the land is developed; buffered zones to mitigate road fatalities; tailored landscapes to provide cover and forage material for displaced animals. Since moving to Willoughby two months ago, I have witnessed two rabbits within the space of one month hit by cars at the same location. In contrast, I did not see any road kill in Walnut Grove in the 15 years we lived there; although I do recall seeing road kill (no more than 6 incidents in the 15 years) of opossums and squirrels while driving in the same Willoughby neighborhood of 208th street and 84th Ave. This contrasting experience suggests that the human-wildlife conflict in this zone seems to be an ongoing problem. A closer examination of this particular zone is warranted. As mentioned, the aforementioned rabbits’ behavior (foraging next to the road shoulder on 83rd Ave) indicates that they are being pushed to live and feed closer to the road in a smaller roam area than before. This is not normal behavior. Rabbits do not like sudden commotion or loud noises, and can actually die from fright. I am suggesting that the WHCS could be enhanced by extending the concept further to a more detailed level, i.e., creation of habitat pockets within each development (or within a small catchment of 2-3 consecutive developments) that feed into allocated habitat patches, and ultimately, the wildlife corridor. I have made several recommendations for immediate action, as well as future incorporation into site development plans for your consideration: i) awareness campaigns, and ii) habitat pockets. Awareness campaigns consist of actions that can be taken immediately to raise public awareness of wild animals being displaced due to urban development. Habitat pockets are measures of BMP that developers can incorporate to allow for transition of displaced wildlife due to habitat loss.
Background We moved to Willoughby on May 11, 2011. On June 6, I filed a report with transportation #92315 of a road kill of an adult rabbit. It was an adult Eastern cottontail hit by a car, probably in the evening of June 5. It had been lying on the road since its demise, and I witnessed cars going over the carcass throughout the day. The deceased animal was finally picked up around 4 pm on June 6. I was appalled at the disrespect of motorists who drove over the deceased animal as opposed to going around it. In my phone call, I mentioned that I see rabbits often along that stretch of the road (on the grassy area right next to the shoulder) where the adult rabbit was hit on 83rd Ave., between 208 and 209A St. When cars go by, the rabbit(s) run off into the tall grasses. I suggested that a slower speed limit be posted there 30 km/hr, instead of the 50 km/hr, plus a sign indicating rabbit crossing. Crystal (who took the initial report) said that a request will be submitted. I travel that stretch of road several times a day, seven days a week, and have seen rabbits trying to cross 83rd Ave from one side to the other, early mornings. Around July 5, I called for an update of the request to engineering, but no progress has been made. I reiterated that I see rabbit kits eating along the road shoulder (and still do) that scuttle away as cars go by (way over the 50 km/hr). I was very concerned for the safety of the rabbit kits and pressed for action. The receiver logged in my request and asked me to call back later for an update. On July 11, I called a third time as my concern had become a tragic foreseeable reality. A rabbit kit was hit by a car between 7:30 and 8:00 am on July 10. Early that July 10 morning around 7:30 am, I passed by that area and saw the kit eating grass near the road shoulder; on my return trip, I see his dead body on the shoulder with two crows eating his carcass. I stopped to closely examine the situation, and oncoming traffic simply continued over the carcass. If the carcass was a dead dog, would motorists drive over it? Perhaps not! On July 15, at 4:30pm I received a call from Mike Stang indicating that nothing I suggested can be done: i) that slower speed limits cannot be put up as all standard streets are 50 km/hr.; ii) that signs indicating rabbit or wildlife crossing cannot be put up as none exists. The only signs indicating wildlife crossings are for deer. July 23, at 7:15 am, I passed by a road kill on 80th Ave, about 2 city blocks west of 208th street. The carcass was in the shade and I only saw it at the last minute, but was able to swerve around it. My impression was that it was a small animal. On my return trip at 7:45 am, the carcass was gone (I assume the crows got it). I returned home, retrieved my camera, and took pictures of the blood splatter and entrails. Values The Wildlife Habitat Conservation Strategy (WHCS) recognizes the importance of wildlife habitat to support existing and future wildlife. Bylaw 4682 includes a statement to promote habitat stewardship among its residents. In that intent, road kill are distressful to witness, especially juvenile animals. While all road kill cannot be eliminated in an urban setting, I feel that, based on my recent experience, more can be done to mitigate these circumstances, especially for small animals (which are often ignored because of their small stature); and that TOL could take a closer look at neighborhoods with higher than normal reported road kill. I present below some options for reducing the number of road kill due to habitat loss.
Immediate Action – Raising Awareness 1. Print initial announcement and weekly reminders throughout the spring and summer in both local newspapers to raise general awareness. The bulletin would inform motorists to watch for wildlife crossings, particularly small animals (such as opossums, squirrels, skunks, raccoons, and rabbits) during mating and breeding seasons. Neighborhoods with new developments are especially important to note.
2. Distribute a pamphlet to households in new developments to educate new residents and raise their awareness of wildlife habitat conservation efforts by TOL, thus promoting habitat stewardship. Information could include smart road sense to avoid road kill, eliminating the use of cosmetic pesticides, etc. 3. During the spring and throughout the summer seasons, display a pamphlet at all public libraries informing Langley residents of increased small wildlife activity, specifically asking motorists to be wary of wildlife crossings during early morning hours and evening hours, in urban development. 4. Include a car freshener in several small wild animal shapes, with Welcome Wagon’s package, accompanying the sheet of TOL phone numbers. The pamphlet displayed in libraries could also be distributed. This would especially be helpful information to residents of new developments such as ours. In addition, this pamphlet could also be made available at the Township Civic Office. 5. LEPS could include in their education programs the awareness of small wildlife and their increased activity in the spring and summer months. A good contact regarding rabbits is the Rabbit Advocacy Group of BC – Carmina Gooch. For other small mammals, Critter Care Wildlife Society is a helpful resource. 6. Set up a monitoring program of road kill to find out where the high occurrence zones are located. A question on a separate form accompanying the municipal tax statement could be inserted to ask the type and location of road kill witnessed by each household for that year. Mitigation measures could then be tailored to that specific zone, such as surrounding 208th street between 80th and 84th Ave.
Further Habitat Protection – Habitat Pockets Current and Future Developments 1. As an example, the Athenry Gate development has a sign on 83rd Ave. near the site of the rabbit fatalities. As this project proceeds, more land will be cleared. I have already witnessed two rabbit fatalities. In all likelihood, there are more young and adult rabbits in the ‘yet-to-be-cleared’ shrubbery, in addition to other existing wildlife. What can be retained of this shrubbery habitat that can serve as a temporary refuge while providing food and shelter for these wild animals? Rather than completely clearing the land all at once, thus, forcing the wildlife towards the road shoulder, there are a number of options to retain a habitat pocket: leave a buffered zone of existing vegetation preferably away from the road, incorporate tailored landscapes for cover and forage material, and convert a small area of the development by planting appropriate native vegetation. As well, special fencing (described in one of the references) and hedgerows can also be installed. These measures provide a retreat zone, albeit temporarily, for existing small mammalian wildlife until such time that perhaps nature or linkages to other habitat patches can be established.
2. Would it not be a biased judgment to ignore their dilemma simply because they are small creatures? I suspect that the low empathy for these small critters is due partly because most people do not have a strong connection to or understanding of them, as they do to dogs and cats or wildlife symbols such as eagles. Nevertheless, this lack of understanding and appreciation does not lessen the severity and the senselessness of road kill. If the road kill was a dog, there would be more public reaction. 3. Incentives to developers can be granted by TOL to incorporate a more wildlife habitat friendly pocket within their development. Currently, we have no idea how many small creatures (mammals) are living in any undeveloped site. To assume that coercing a large number of existing creatures to live together in a smaller confined pocket area in the development, leading to food competition, and ultimately starvation might be premature. If the numbers were indeed high (which I doubt), some could be captured and relocated to designated habitat patches. If the numbers were small (more likely), perhaps the habitat pocket left within the development might suffice. Since we don’t know, we should do our best to afford some relief of habitat loss by creating these habitat pockets. This would be better than forcing all of them to be eventual road kill by clearing the entire property without due relief. The intent is not to eliminate all road kill, but to reduce the number. 4. On the Northeast Gordon Estates plan, a wildlife tunnel exists under 72nd street, east of 208 Ave. Can this be upgraded to incorporate more wildlife species or extended?
5. Just right outside my back yard, TOL is building an elementary school. Half the land has been cleared and excavators are currently digging up the dirt. The other half is still shrubbery. The two halves have been divided by a blue fence (put in the week of July 4). When we moved here in mid-May, before the excavators started digging, we used to hear frogs every night. Now, we don’t hear them any more. Where did they suddenly disappear to? I have also seen three rabbits at the edge of the shrubbery directly outside my back yard foraging in the evening. The current excavation and gaveling of the site probably coincides with breeding season. How much wildlife are affected as they try to raise their young by this sudden and large disturbance? 6. Where will this local wildlife retreat to as the shrubbery is replaced by sod? Can similar actions such as those mentioned be implemented to provide refuge for these local inhabitants? If the area currently supports a large number of wildlife mammals (which I doubt), some could be relocated to the Langley Events Centre (meadow area behind the fields) or Derby Reach Park, or the closest designated habitat patch. If the area only supports a small number wildlife mammals (which is more likely), a habitat pocket or band within the school development might be adequate to accommodate them. This is surely better than just forcing them out to feed by the road and inevitably be killed. 7. If habitat pockets within say, every couple of developments are retained, this would provide a better linkage to habitat patches that serve a larger catchment area, which in turn, feed into the wildlife corridor as presented in Bylaw 4682. In neighborhoods with several consecutive developments, perhaps a habitat patch should be established. How are habitat patches allocated currently? Might assumptions for their allocation need to be reexamined? The location of the habitat patches should account for where the existing wildlife is living and being displaced, not just where it’s the easiest to set up. 8. Although Mike Stang indicated that the only animal crossing sign is for deer or other big animals, I have discovered that there are two new signs for smaller animals from the MoT’s Wildlife Warning Signs: Ducks Crossing, Badger Crossing. Would it not be reasonable to explore the possibility of having a Rabbit Crossing or Small Wildlife Crossing sign made up? While we want to maintain consistency with provincial and federal highway signs, why can’t the municipality make up a sign for our municipal roads? As well, reflective devices could be put in for nocturnal animals such as opossums in neighborhoods with known opossum road kill. Wildlife warning signs exist under the Wildlife Accident Reporting System (WARS), administered by the MoT, Engineering Branch, Environmental Management Section. Leonard Sielecki wrote a Special Annual Report in June 2010: http://www.th.gov.bc.ca/publications/eng_publications/environment/references/WA RS/WARS_1988-2007/WARS_88-07_Preface-00W.pdf. Section 4.7 of this report describes Integrated Wildlife Management which includes smaller mammals. It discusses a Case Study of the Vancouver Island Highway. Parts of the Highway encompass one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems, thus harboring many wildlife habitats.
Conclusion While Bylaw 4682 provides a mandate to protect and enhance wildlife habitats in the Willoughby Community, there appears to be insufficient BMP in place to carry out the mandate at the individual site development level to mitigate habitat loss for small animals. While an overall allotment of habitat patches and corridor is established, there continues to be unabated loss of wildlife habitat pockets, resulting in unnecessary road kill. Three road kill (two on 83rd Ave, one on 80th Ave) and three rabbits crossing roads (one on 83rd Ave, two on 80th Ave) between June 5 and July 23 in the same neighborhood that I have witnessed(surrounding 208th Street) indicate a higher incidence of human-wildlife conflict that has not been adequately addressed. In reality, the incidence rate is likely higher. I sincerely hope that TOL will become a leader in wildlife habitat conservation by taking additional action on two fronts: i) implementing awareness campaigns, and ii) establishing BMP (as such road warning signs, habitat pockets, relocation) for future site developments, to address habitat loss for small creatures. I have spent many hours researching, speaking and connecting with several parties including TOL personnel, MOE – Fish & Wildlife Branch, FLNR – Policy and Regulation. I sincerely hope that the road kill I have witnessed did not die in vain. I earnestly hope that you give this letter due attention, and that mitigating actions will be forthcoming to raise public awareness/ stewardship, and to retain habitat pockets at current and future site developments.
I would like to thank the following supporters for their input: Rabbit Advocacy Group of BC – Carmina Gooch, President Gail Martin, Langley Lesley Fox, Executive Director, Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals Dr. Kortschak, DVM of South Surrey Vet Hospital Cathleen Vecchiato, Langley
http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/wld/documents/bmp/urban_ebmp/EBMP%20PDF%201.pdf http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/wld/documents/bmp/urban_ebmp/EBMP%20PDF%204.pdf http://www.vernon.ca/services/pde/ministry_of_environment.html http://www.th.gov.bc.ca/publications/eng_publications/environment/references/WARS/WAR S_1991-2000/WARS_Ann_Rpt_TOC-60-75.pdf http://www.th.gov.bc.ca/publications/eng_publications/environment/references/WARS/WAR S_1988-2007/WARS_88-07_Section-04W.pdf http://www.geog.ubc.ca/biodiversity/factsheets/pdf/Lepus_americanus_washingtonii.pdf http://www.mn.nrcs.usda.gov/technical/ecs/wild/cottontail.pdf http://canadianbiodiversity.mcgill.ca/english/species/mammals/mammalpages/syl_flo.htm http://www.mass.gov/dfwele/dfw/wildlife/living/living_with_cottontails.htm
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?