Frogs settle down when darkness falls

Frogs settle down when darkness falls

Every step we take upon You should be done in a sacred manner; each step should be as a prayer. Prayer to Mother Earth by Black Elk, Lakota (Sioux) Nation, the Great Lakes.

Pheasants sound like spikes pried from planks with a crowbar. Mike Stark of Pitt Meadows remembers the calls in the Katzie Slough wetland behind his house on Wildwood Crescent.

Years ago, pheasant talk along the Fraser turned to squawks of panic.

“I saw a coyote with a hen in its mouth. The rooster was about 30 feet away. It was dragging one leg away from danger.”

Stark says the coyote was hooked.

“It opened its mouth and stepped towards what it figured was its real dinner. The hen flew into a tree. The rooster joined it. You should have seen that coyote’s face,” recalls Stark. “It had to be thinking what an idiot I am. It was like one of Aesop’s fables.”

The pheasants have gone now, says Stark. They could outwit coyotes, but not the City of Pitt Meadows.

Stark says frogs and garter snakes also vanished when work began on a bike path from Hammond Road to Airport Way.

“It’s a road,” Stark says.

TransLink built it for the city during the Golden Ears Bridge project. Bark mulch would have been more permeable, says Stark, but an ecological assessment that might have suggested that, wasn’t done.

“They [the city] said the path was an add-on to the bridge project, and didn’t need a study.

“It’s a loophole. Instead of changing a project to suit the environment, they’ve changed the environment to suit their project.”

The comment reveals Stark’s respect for nature. “There’s a spirit that moves through everything,” he says, referring to Lakota beliefs he’s adopted.

The “Great Mysterious,” he says, includes wetlands, and the snakes he taught the local kids to respect.

Stark says negative impacts on the wetland and its wildlife began in 1988.

“That’s when the city dumped tons of asphalt and concrete in here and covered it over with sand. They needed a place to dump it I guess.

“We were disappointed to see so much broken asphalt and concrete. We only found out it was there in 2010 – a year after the initial path was completed –  when trucks came back. One day, I found two and a half feet of road bed behind my fence. They were putting the crush on the path to pave it. It would have been two feet higher than it is today.

“I decided they weren’t going to dump one more load until we had a consult with the city,” says Stark.

He stood behind a truck, refusing to move despite warnings from a flag girl that the driver couldn’t see him.

“Well then,” Stark called back, “I guess I’ll make the six o’clock news.

Stark’s wife, phone in hand, was poised to make the call.”

An operations manager now wanted to negotiate. “They hauled some preload out to lower the profile of the path.”

Drainage problems for Wildwood residents remained. Stark says the compacted path acts like a dam preventing water from running off to the slough.

“I negotiated with the city for some relief. They put in a small French drain to catch the water. It wasn’t deep enough, but they waited until February 2010 to dig it deeper when it didn’t work.

“What’s happened here is an environmental disaster, a travesty,” Stark says.

He blames the dense asphalt path for the problems nature and man now share.

“No water can flow off our subdivision,” he says. “It’s a swamp. Water gets to the path, and has no place to drain, so it backs uphill. I’ve said if you compact dirt, you reduce permeability. You’ve destroyed the kidneys of this area.”

Stark’s not sure anyone’s listening, but hopes the city will create a ditching system to drain the hillside and connect it to holes punched through to the slough. Water trickles through some existing pipes; others, above the water level, are dry.

The subject of frogs comes up again. Before the bike path, Stark recalls, “the croaking was so loud people closed their windows at night.”

“Frogs are like The Waltons, the TV series of the ‘70s,” I said. “Remember the endless rounds of good-night Elizabeth; good-night, Jason; good-night Mary Ellen; good-night John-Boy? Frogs are slower at saying sleep tight, but they also settle down when darkness falls.”

Stark knew that. He never closed his window. He liked hearing frogs wish each other sweet dreams. Most of us do, but it’s a sound we could lose forever.

On the website, scientists say habitat loss from municipal activity has resulted in declines in 18 of 40 threatened frog species. They must migrate to larger bodies of water like Katzie Slough to complete their breeding cycles. “Roads,” like the Pitt Meadows bike path, say the scientists, make that trip “dangerous or impossible.”

All fables end with a moral. The one about the coyote and the hen? It’s smarter to hang onto a sure thing (like a perfectly functioning bio-system) than take a major gamble and lose it all.

• If Jack’s story Along the Fraser reminds you of one you know, let him print story idea in the subject line of an email:

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