Western Toads Support Healthy Ecosystems

Summer youth interns and staff from the Quinault Indian Nation and the Squaxin Island Tribe met on the Satsop River to survey western toads, an important indicator for our local ecosystems.

“These toads can tell us a lot about the health of a forest and a river,” said Erica Marbet, a hydrologist with the Squaxin Island Tribe. “If we see toads in the right places, it is safe to assume that the river is healthy.”

Part education, part science, the surveys were a way for the interns to learn from biologists how to conduct basic species surveys. The data collected will help managers understand local western toad populations.

“It was my first time seeing tadpoles schooled together like that, deep in the woods in the river,” said Keenon Vigil-Snook, Squaxin Island Tribe. “Looking at the toads in their natural environment truly helps us understand what we’re studying.”

The survey crew parked at the end of a logging road and hiked several miles before scaling down a steep hillside to the river.

“We don’t just hit the river and start demonstrating for them, we let the students do the work while we ask them questions to unpack the process,” said Candace Penn, the climate change specialist for the Squaxin Island Tribe. “It is much more important to understand why we’re collecting certain data than just that we’re collecting certain data.”

Toads are upland creatures, living in the forest, open land, but they breed in wetlands and along large rivers. The survey crew looked for evidence of breeding. On the Satsop River, western toads breed in still pockets of the river in late spring.

Since the mid-1990s, toad surveys on the Satsop have been handled by both timber companies, tribes and state agencies. Earlier in the summer, surveyors from the state department of Fish and Wildlife covered the same stretch of river and found egg strings. The youth crew found large groups of tadpoles at various stages of development.

A survey crew from the Squaxin Island Tribe and the Quinault Indian Nation inspect tadpoles in a pool on the Satsop River. E. O’Connell.