Chorus Frog Threatened by Thundering Waters Development and Expressway

Photo and article by John Bacher, PhD. 

A previously secret report, a letter written on May 4, 2018, four days before the Public Meeting on the proposed Riverfront development in Niagara Falls revealed important information. It was concealed from the public until it was disclosed during the Christmas season as a present for filing an appeal against Official Plan Amendment 128. This amendment is a critical instrument for a two phase destruction of the Thundering Waters Forest, a natural area of around 500 acres. Most of it is designated as a protected wetland called the Niagara Falls Slough Forest Wetland Complex. (NFSFWC)

The secret report was a letter sent by Savanta on May 1, 2018 to a Niagara Falls City planner John Barnsley. The letter was not released to the Niagara Falls City Council or the general public in time for the May 8 statutory Public Meeting and Council vote on Amendment 128. The report concerned an area which until October 2017 was considered part of the NFSFWC. It was termed Wetland Number One by a study by Savanta, ecological consultants for the developer which seeks to destroy the wetland, GR Canada. (Inc) The wetland is now considered in Amendment a study area FOD7-3.

The previously secret Savanta report that “Visual surveys for egg masses in vernal pool features identified western Chorus Frogs.” It also revealed that adult Western Chorus Frogs were also found in the disputed wetland. The Savanta study admitted that, “Western Chorus Frog has been documented extensively throughout the Riverfront community.” The name “Riverfront” is what is was given to the Amendment 128 lands which at the May 8 Public Meeting, by GR Canada Attorney Jane Pepino. Here Pepino revealed that Riverfront was the first stage of a development which would eventually consume most of the NFSFWC, an important core area of breeding habitat for the Western Chorus Frog.

The biggest core area in Canada remaining for the Western Chorus Frog, whose joyful male breeding calls are a happy sign of spring is in a small corner of habitat in and surrounding the Niagara Region. The species is officially listed as Endangered in Quebec, resulting in federal government stop work order in La Prairie, south of Montreal. The species is also threatened by agricultural pesticides, which have no history of usage on the Thundering Waters lands. In Quebec their use, the federal government’s recovery plan notes “appear to have mutagenic effects, (ie. Deformities, feminization of males.”

The abundance of Chorus Frogs in Thundering Waters is illustrative of what its federal recovery plan notes is its helpful role as an indicator species. Here as in other parts of southern Canada where it has survived, its endurance is a good sign for other species. These species include the Gray Tree Frog, Leopard Frog, Green Frog, Northern Spring Peeper and the Snapping Turtle, a Species At Risk.

The federal recovery plan for the Western Chorus Frog reveals that the area from the Niagara Escarpment to Lake Erie and the Niagara River to the Six Nations Reservation straddling the Grand River, is the core habitat for the Western Chorus Frogs. In other parts of its range south of the Canadian Shield an ominous disturbing silent spring is spreading on the landscape. The sounds of male frogs calling for mates may be replaced by the less melodious din of traffic.

Recently a House of Commons Transportation Committee advocated building a mid-Niagara peninsula expressway, which if constructed, would devastate the core habitat of the Western Chorus Frog. One of the principal area in which it would release toxic salt and chemical sprays is the forested wetland complex a great have for vernal pool obligate species such as auras and the Blue Spotted Salamander is the Caistor-Canborough Slough Forest.

There is a danger of losing a great natural wonder in Brant County- Niagara region before it is recognized and appreciated. Roads and development can go on other areas without wrecking a treasure house of bio-diversity.