Airport decision spares toad habitat
A toad colony at the Haines Airport once threatened by a planned expansion project has apparently been granted a reprieve.
The Alaska Department of Transportation this week said it has reversed its plans to fill in a one-acre pond and portion of Yendeistakye Creek that is home to western toads, rearing and spawning coho salmon, and rearing and spawning Dolly Varden.
“We’ve scaled back the project. We are going to leave that pond and the creek area alone, (and) not put in fill in that area,” said DOT spokesperson Jeremy Woodrow.
Woodrow said the plan to fill the pond and creek generated controversy because of its impacts to wildlife. Fish and Game had also recommended DOT build a new pond “designed for rearing juvenile coho salmon and western toads” near the airport’s helicopter pad.
“If we were to fill in the pond which would displace the toads, we would probably have to do mitigation efforts to create a pond elsewhere. We aren’t going to do that, so it’s just easier at this point in time to leave the pond,” Woodrow said.
DOT originally wanted to fill the pond because it is a wildlife and bird attractant, which presents a safety problem. “The bottom line is planes and birds don’t mix, and anything that can attract birds is viewed as a problem area for the airport,” Woodrow said.
Biologist Tim Shields raised the toad issue in August 2013 when the Haines Borough Planning Commission voiced support for the airport improvements. Shields has worked as a field biologist for 35 years, served as executive director for the Takshanuk Watershed Council for seven years, and holds a master’s degree in wildlife ecology.
“I am really happy to hear that for the time being that pond is going to continue producing tadpoles and little toads,” Shields said.
Shields said the site is ecologically significant because it has everything toads want in a breeding site, especially because it has a source of water year-round.
The pond also is personally important to Shields, who spent a lot of time there working as a field biologist and with his daughter. His favorite toad phenomenon is when all of the baby toads huddle together in a giant ball to sunbathe and retain warmth. When they sense a human approaching, they scatter.
“The little toads get freaked out and all of a sudden you go from this pile that isn’t readily recognizable and all of a sudden it explodes in slow motion into a bunch of individual hopping toads,” Shields said.
DOT’s Woodrow said the $8 million project should go out to bid this year and construction should start next spring or summer. It will improve drainage, resurface much of the facility, add new lighting and fencing, and expand the apron.