Tribes collaborate to survey toads

A collaboration between Squaxin Island Tribe and partners gives natural resources department interns an opportunity to see some of the state’s most beautiful places—and collect data that may help protect an imperiled species of toad. 

For several years, Squaxin Island Tribe interns have joined Western toad surveys, first to the Canyon River near Matlock with permission from the Quinault Tribe, and starting last year, near Lake Cushman with permission from the Skokomish Tribe. 

The forays have also included interns and staff members from the Squaxin, Quinault and Skokomish Tribes.

Interns gather data on the habitat, conditions and population of the Western toad, a species in increasing peril because of habitat loss in urbanized areas of western Washington.

“When I started at Squaxin in 2013 I saw that they had summer interns.” Squaxin Island Natural Resources water resources biologist Erica Marbet said. “I knew that the best way to get these kids excited about science was to expose them to work from my career that had been the most fun. And that work was certainly Western toad surveys.”

Marbet had first conducted a Western toad survey for a private employer in the late ’90s and was struck by how the activity allowed her to carry out an important scientific task while exposing her to particularly beautiful stretches of the outdoors.

She is grateful that her employer—as well as Quinault Indian Nation, Skokomish Indian Tribe and other partners—have given her the green light to share the experience with others.

Four Squaxin Island interns joined the surveys this year. At the outing near Lake Cushman, they took off in kayaks with staff to find where the toads could be found, as well as their preferred water depth, vegetation, and temperature. It’s crucial data considering the dwindling population of the species in the Puget Sound lowlands. 

That late July outing spotted a few remaining tadpoles in the warm water shallows, but was otherwise dominated by newly metamorphosed toads on the banks. Next year, Marbet hopes to bring the interns to the Deschutes River near Olympia, where the presence of Western toads is unknown.

Other partners on surveys include Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and Green Diamond Resource Co. 

A Western toad found during a survey near Lake Cushman earlier this year, part of an ongoing collaboration between tribes and partners. Story and photo: Trevor Pyle