Construction of a new highway in western Norway was threatening a local population of toads. State highway officials ended up hiring two environmental workers to help the toads avoid death during the construction process, and now “toad tunnels” are being built as well.
The new Kvivsvegen portion of the E-39 highway near Volda, in the mountainous district of Sunnmøre, cuts right though the route used by prized Norwegian toads, known as padder, to get to their spawning grounds.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) brought the story this week of how Oddvar Olsen and Gunnar Wangen, of the environmental organization Naturvernforbundet in Volda, are being paid by the state highway department (Statens Vegvesen) to rescue toads that wander into the construction site near the Austefjord.
Carrying buckets, Olsen and Wangen have been plucking up hundreds of toads every evening and safely transporting them across the highway being built. It’s under cover of darkness when the special Norwegian toads slowly try to make their way to a local lake called Lillevatnet to spawn.
The lake borders the roadbuilding project, which has altered the landscape and confused the little toads. The toads, who also have just emerged from winter quarters underground and perhaps aren’t completely awake, can’t find the lake. Not only did that threaten their prospects for reproduction, but many were also getting run over by construction vehicles.
It’s not only now that the Naturvernforbundet workers will be performing rescue operations. After the toads are guided to their spawning grounds, they’ll need to be guided back to their home turf a few weeks from now. In the fall, their offspring will need to be guided from the lake back to the forest and to the areas on higher ground where they spend the winter.
Naturvernforbundet sounded alarms when plans for the new Kvivsvegen highway near Volvda emerged. They fought for years to save the toad population near the Austefjord, said to be the largest in the Nordic countries.
Even though state highway officials initially balked at the prospect of mounting special, expensive efforts to save the toads, workers on the site have grown fond of them. They’ve been charmed by the toads’ chirping, and project director Oddbjørn Pladsen of Statens Vegvesen told NRK the toads “are unique” and “must be taken care of.”
Now, not only has the highway department gone along with the rescue plans during the spawning process, it’s spending around NOK 1 million to build small tunnels under the new highway, that the toads can use in the future after the highway is completed.
A total of seven tunnels, lined with “nice, soft dirt” for the toads’ comfort, will connect the toads’ winter resting place, on one side of the highway, with the lake where they spawn on the other side. Their offspring will hopefully also learn to use the tunnels as part of the toads’ breeding migration.
Many Norwegian highways around the country feature special bridges for use by wandering moose. “I think this is the first time the highway department has built toad tunnels,” said Pladsen.