Ski area to build "toad condos’ for endangered boreal toads
BRECKENRIDGE – No one can say the Breckenridge Ski Resort isn’t dedicated to providing housing for residents in the valley – even if those residents are toads.
“We want to accommodate everyone and everything,” said Matt Sugar, director of community relations for the resort. “Much of the ski area is public land, so we have to accommodate everyone, including toads.”
Resort officials are taking their toad housing a bit more seriously than that.
The “artificial hibernacula” – the town’s planning commission has taken to calling the units “toad condos” – is part of the mitigation Breckenridge Ski Resort officials have agreed to in connection with the relocation of County Road 3 to make room for Peak 7 development.
Part of that road will run close to the upper stretches of Cucumber Gulch wetlands, and biologists don’t want toads trying to cross the road when they migrate to higher elevations to hibernate.
The ski resort will pay $3,000 for the project – a veritable coup in a resort market. That should be enough to build between five and 10 hibernation units.
“In some ways, we don’t want any toads moving across County Road 3 into the Peak 7 and 8 development,” said Ron Beane, a wildlife biologist with ERO Resources of Denver. “We need to create some habitat to compensate for the loss of (uphill habitat) and keep them within the gulch.”
The condos will either be enclosed in a 3-foot-thick berm above ground or a complex below the frost line and above the historic high-water mark.
Crews will place pea gravel and charcoal to provide drainage and pile tree stumps under the berm to create nooks and crannies in which the toads can hide. Small-diameter pipes will be used to simulate the squirrel and gopher burrows toads use to access hibernation holes.
“They’re not going to be real luxurious,” Beane said. “It’s just a pile of stumps, and let’s throw in some moss for nesting material, some gravel and charcoal for drainage and see if it might attract them.”
“I think that really shows the commitment the ski area has for housing,” joked Breckenridge Mayor Sam Mamula. “First it’s Breck Terrace, now it’s toad condos. The ski area is certainly bellying up to the bar.”
No one knows if the toads will use the condos. In fact, no one is sure if boreal toads still live in the wetlands at the base of the ski area at Peak 8.
“Who knows?” said planning commissioner Dave Pringle. “The toads may find living there degrading.”
Other commissioners joked about lease agreements and employee housing. Sugar said the condos will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. The complexes have yet to be named, but people have discussed possibilities, among them Kermit Meadows, Toad Terrace, Cucumber Condos or Toad Towers.
Beane takes the hibernacula a bit more seriously.
Boreal toads (Bufo boreas boreas) live in montane habitats throughout the state at elevations between 7,000 and 12,000 feet. Their habitat typically ranges from spruce-fir forests and alpine meadows. They prefer to breed in lakes, marshes, ponds and bogs with sunny exposures and quiet, shallow water.
The toads spend summers in wetlands and hop uphill in the fall to find a place to hibernate over the winter. Like bears, boreal toads slow down their body functions and place themselves in a coma-like state until the warmth of spring beckons them from their lairs.
Boreal toads are listed on the state’s endangered species list and on the federal list of threatened species.
In 2000, Colorado Division of Wildlife researchers confirmed the presence of a deadly fungus in a boreal toad population west of Denver. The fungus is linked to a decline in boreal toad numbers in Australia and Central America, and has been found in at least three Colorado toad populations.
Researchers don’t know if the fungus exists in the Cucumber Gulch wetlands because they can only test for it on a toad. Treatments applied to toads in captivity have proven to be effective in eliminating the fungus, but again, it has to be applied directly to the animals.
Biologists hope the artificial homes for the toads could prove to improve their population numbers in the gulch. Beane said he’s built habitat for rabbits, designed amphibian underpasses under roads and overpasses for big game and lynx.
“We’re just taking it to a new species,” he said. “If it turns out they like our little design, it’ll be interesting.”
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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