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Precedent setting ruling to defend Species at Risk: Western Chorus Frog

Precedent setting ruling to defend Species at Risk: Western Chorus Frog

[caption id="attachment_37987" align="alignleft" width="150"] Andrea Lesperance, Student-at-Law.[/caption] This blog post was written by Andrea Lesperance, a Student-at-Law for Nature Canada. A fight to protect the Western Chorus Frog has resulted in a precedent-setting legal decision. This 2018 decision of the Federal Court has affirmed the Federal Government’s authority to issue emergency orders to protect the habitat of species-at-risk located on provincial lands. The decision affirms the federal government’s authority to protect at-risk species and their habitat and should future court decisions. This is important in a time where biodiversity, particularly species already at risk, are lost at an alarming rate.

What is the Western Chorus Frog?

The Western Chorus Frog is a small (approximately 2.5 cm long) brown, grey or olive tree frog with three dark lines along its back and one larger line on each side. It is is found in approximately 100 wetland locations divided into two populations: the Carolinian population of southwestern Ontario and the Great Lakes / St. Lawrence – Canada Shield population (GLSLCS) in regions of Ontario and Quebec. The GLSLCS population is threatened, mainly due to habitat destruction and fragmentation, particularly in suburban areas of southwestern Quebec.

What Legal Protections Have Been Put in Place?

In 2008, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) assessed the Western Chorus Frog GLSLCS population as Threatened. Subsequently, in 2010, it was listed as Threatened under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). However, the strongest habitat protections afforded by SARA did not apply to much of the GLSLCS population because the relevant habitat did not lie on federal land. Thus, in 2013, Nature Quebec asked the Minister of Environment to issue an emergency protection order for the La Prairie population of Western Chorus Frogs under SARA. The Minister refused to make the recommendations and so Nature Quebec initiated a judicial review in Federal Court, seeking mandamus; an order to the Minister to make the recommendation. In its 2015 decision, Québécois du droit de l’environnement v. Canada (Environment), 2015 FC 773, the Federal Court set aside the Minister’s refusal as unreasonable and ordered her to reconsider the decision. The Minister undertook an extensive information gathering process and concluded there was imminent threat to the recovery of the Western Chorus Frog. Thus, in July of 2016, the Federal government issued an emergency order to protect Western Chorus Frog habitat in La Prairie, Quebec. The emergency order prohibited, among other activities, the construction of infrastructure, structure or barriers on approximately 2 km2 of partially-developed land in the municipalities of La Prairie, Candiac and Saint-Philippe, Quebec. The prohibitions were intended to prevent the loss and degradation of essential Western Chorus Frog habitat and prevent activities which could harm the species.

Legal Precedent and Implications

This decision was contested by a housing developer, Groupe Maison Candiac, who had previously received authorization from the province to build a housing development on part of the 2 km2 at issue. The developer applied to the Federal Court have the emergency order invalidated on the grounds that
  • (1) the provision of SARA which enables the Minister to, within the emergency order, prohibit activities on non-federal land, is outside the constitutional jurisdiction of the federal government, or
  • (2) the emergency order is expropriation without compensation, which is prohibited by s. 952 of the Civil Code of Quebec and the common law rule of de facto appropriation.
In the resulting decision, Le Groupe Maison Candiac Inc. v. Procureur General Du Canada, 2018 CF 643, the Federal Court rejected these arguments, finding that the section of SARA which enables the federal government to prohibit activities on non-federal land via an emergency order is a valid measure of criminal law, which falls under the jurisdiction of the federal government. The Court found that the relevant section of SARA:
  • pursues the legitimate public purpose of environmental protection first recognized in R v. Hydro-Québec, [1997] 3 SCR 213,
  • does not impinge on areas of exclusive provincial legislative jurisdiction, and
  • has the attributes of a criminal law regime.
Further, the FC held that the concept of de facto appropriation does not affect the validity of the emergency order because Parliament had provided for a compensation mechanism for the losses suffered as a result of the emergency order within SARA but limited its scope to extraordinary consequences. Congratulations to Nature Quebec! Without their initiative, the emergency order and resulting decision may not have come about. This recent decision is important for Nature Canada’s Greater Sage Grouse Case An emergency order has only been used to protect a species at risk twice since SARA came into force in 2002. An emergency order was issued in 2013 to protect Greater Sage Grouse habitat on Albertan provincial lands. The sage-grouse has been listed as an endangered species under SARA and the Alberta Wildlife Act for some time, but was afforded little protection under these mechanisms. Recognizing these shortfalls, Nature Canada wrote to then-Minister of the Environment Peter Kent, urging him to issue an emergency order to protect the Sage-Grouse and its habitat. On December 4, 2013 the federal government issued the Emergency Order for the Protection of the Greater Sage Grouse (SOR/2013-202). Now, the City of Medicine Hat and LGX Oil and Gas have applied to the Federal Court for a judicial review of the decision to issue the emergency order. The City of Medicine Hat and LGX Oil & Gas have requested that the Federal Court strike down the emergency order and the authorizing provisions of SARA on the basis that they are outside the federal government’s constitutional powers and so they unlawfully infringe on exclusive provincial legislative authority. It is clear, based on the Western Chorus Frog case, that the federal government has the authority to prohibit actions in important sage-grouse habitat in order to protect the species, because this falls under the legitimate public purpose of environmental protection.
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Canada’s 7 Species of Treefrogs

Canada’s 7 Species of Treefrogs

[caption id="attachment_23299" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Valerie Assinewe Valerie Assinewe,
Guest Blogger[/caption] Throughout the spring and summer months, treefrogs will be one of the species that you may be so lucky to encounter! Here is some information about these mostly heard but rarely seen amphibians: Where do they live? In Canada, there are seven species of treefrogs:

  1. Boreal Chorus Frog (Pseudacris maculata) found from British Columbia to Quebec, Northwest Territories, and the Yukon Territory.
  2. Cope’s Gray Treefrog (Hyla chrysoscelis) found in Manitoba and western Ontario.
  3. Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor) found from Manitoba east to New Brunswick.
  4. Northern Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans) found on Pelee Island, Ontario.
  5. Pacific Treefrog (Pseudacris regilla) found only in British Columbia.
  6. Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) found from Manitoba to Prince Edward Island.
  7. Western Chorus Frog (Pseudacris triseriata) found in southern Ontario and southern Quebec.
What do they look like? Generally, treefrogs are not easy to see because they are so small—averaging 4 cm in length—and they have the ability to camouflage. They are typically grey, green or brown blending into their tree or shrub habitat. The Spring Peeper, the Western Chorus Frog and the Gray Treefrog are within the same range. Here are some markings that will help you identify them: [caption id="attachment_28906" align="alignright" width="405"]Image of a Western Chorus Frog Western Chorus Frog by Benny Mazur (CC BY 2.0)[/caption]
  • The Spring Peeper is distinguished by a dark X on the back.
  • The Western Chorus Frog has three dark continuous or broken lines down the back.
  • The Gray Treefrog has a light spot with a dark border under each eye and bright orange/yellow inner thighs.
What do they eat? As tadpoles, they are insectivores. Adults are carnivorous, feeding on insects, worms and spiders. How do they reproduce? Spring is typically the breeding season for the treefrogs, except for the cricket frog that breeds in summer. Depending on the species, the females lay up to 2000 eggs on aquatic plants. Within days, the eggs hatch becoming tadpoles. By midsummer, they transform into frogs leave the water, climb the trees, and live there until fall. Most treefrog species rarely live beyond three years. Did you know?
  • Canadian treefrogs spend their winters under leaf litter, rocks, logs or tree bark. They have the ability to increase the amount of glucose in their bodies. The glucose with a small volume of water acts as a cryoprotectant, which prevents organs from freezing in our cold winters.
  • The sticky disks on their toes help them adhere to bark, branches and twigs.
  • They are prey to a wide variety of predators including birds and mammals. When young, the tadpoles may also be prey to fish.
Next spring go for a ride in the country and listen to the mating calls of the treefrogs. If you are able to identify these frogs, be sure to record your findings with FrogWatch!
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Navigating Tree Frogs in Your Region

Navigating Tree Frogs in Your Region

[caption id="attachment_26918" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Blair Scott Blair Scott,
Professional Writing Intern[/caption] This summer, you will likely be seeing a few tree frogs in your area. But what all do you know about the tree frog species in Canada? Find out information on each of the species below and how you can identify the frogs you find!

How many types of tree frogs are there in Canada?

According to the Canadian Wildlife Federation, seven species of tree frogs reside in Canada:
  • Northern Cricket Frog (aka Blanchard’s Cricket Frog) – Acris crepitans
  • Western Chorus Frog (aka Western Striped Chorus Frog) – Pseudacris triseriata
  • Boreal Chorus Frog – Pseudacris maculata
  • Pacific Tree Frog (aka Pacific Chorus Frog) – Pseudacris regilla
  • Spring Peeper – Pseudacris crucifer
  • Cope’s Gray Tree Frog – Hyla chrysoscelis
  • Gray Tree Frog (aka Tetraploid Gray Tree Frog) – Hyla versicolor
Tree frogs can be found just about anywhere in Canada, although some species are exclusive to certain regions. A comparative glance between two different species may not reveal any obvious resemblance. In addition, consistent identification of any one species may be difficult because many of these frogs change colours rapidly.

Learn how to navigate tree frogs in your region! As a helpful guide, here are some characteristics specific to each kind:

  1. Northern Cricket Frog:

  • Distribution: In Canada, they are only found on Pelee Island, Ontario
  • Texture: Rough, wart-covered skin [caption id="attachment_27135" align="alignright" width="200"]Northern Cricket Frog Northern Cricket Frog and its distinctive "V" marking[/caption]
  • Colour: Hues of gray, greenish-brown, yellow, red and black
  • Markings: A dark “V” sits between its eyes
  • Size: About 4cm long
  • Habitat: Marshes, quarries, ditches and warm Carolinian forests
  • Diet: Small insects
  • Overwintering strategy: Nestles under rocks and logs
  • Status: Endangered (federally and provincially) – habitat loss and damage from pesticides are known issues.
  1. Western Chorus Frog:

  • Distribution: Southern Ontario and southern Quebec
  • Texture: Smooth
  • Colour: Gray, green or brown
  • Markings: Distinguishable dark eye stripe; white stripe aligned with top lip; three dark stripes on its back – the middle stripe is generally solid
  • Size: Up to 4 cm
  • Habitat: Woodland ponds; avoid ponds with fish; forest openings
  • Diet: Insects and other invertebrates
  • Overwintering strategy: Dwell beneath the ground or under a log; freeze-tolerant
  • Notable behaviour features: Modest climbers – reaching the height of a shrub
  • Status: Threatened – Great Lakes/ St. Lawrence region (Canadian Shield population) – federally protected under SARA; habitat loss cited as the main issue
  1. Boreal Chorus Frog:

  • Distribution: More widely distributed than the similar-looking Western Chorus Frog – but does not overlap in its range; can be found from Quebec to BC, and up north in Yukon and the Northwest Territories
  • Texture: Smooth
  • Colour: Gray, green or brown
  • Markings: Same as the Western Chorus Frog, but the middle stripe is usually broken-up
  • Size: 4cm; hind legs are shorter than those of the Western Chorus Frog
  • Habitat: Woodland ponds; avoid ponds with fish; forest openings; tundra (up north)
  • Diet: Insects and other invertebrates
  • Overwintering strategy: Dwell beneath the ground or under a log; freeze-tolerant
  • Notable behaviour features: Modest climbers – reaching about the height of a shrub; longer and slower mating call than the Western Chorus Frog
  • Status: Not at risk/low priority
  1. Pacific Tree Frog:

  • Distribution: Exclusive to BC (Canada)
  • Texture: Smooth to rough
  • Colour: Green, brown, gray or tan
  • Markings: Dark stripes stream down each eye
  • Size: Up to 5 cm; small and lean; large, sticky pads on their toes
  • Habitat: All aquatic/moist environments, forests, mountains and desert steppes
  • Diet: Insects – especially flying insects – and other invertebrates
  • Notable behaviour features: Able to rapidly change colours for camouflage (or due to temperature fluctuations); very versatile habitat range
  • Status: IUCN – Species of least concern
  1. Spring Peeper:

    [caption id="attachment_27136" align="alignleft" width="300"]Spring Peeper Spring Peeper[/caption]

  • Distribution: Manitoba to PEI
  • Texture: Smooth
  • Colour: Brown, tan, green or gray; “bark-coloured”; white or cream belly
  • Markings: Distinctive “X” marked on its back
  • Size: About 3cm; large toe pads
  • Habitat: Aquatic areas and woodland ponds; vulnerable to the effects of urbanization
  • Diet: Insects
  • Overwintering strategy: Retire under logs or tree bark; freeze-tolerant
  • Notable behaviour features: One of the first frogs to be heard singing in the spring; shrill, repetitive call; good at camouflaging
  • Status: Not at risk/low priority
  1. Cope’s Gray Tree Frog:

  • Distribution: Found only in southeastern Manitoba and western Ontario
  • Texture: Rough
  • Colour: Green, brown or gray; thigh interior is orange
  • Markings: Dark “blotches” scattered on its back; large, bright circle under its eyes that is darkly outlined
  • Size: Up to 6cm; large toe pads
  • Habitat: Trees and shrubs surrounding aquatic regions; prefer older forests
  • Diet: Insects and other invertebrates
  • Overwintering strategy: Remain under leaf litter and snow; freeze-tolerant
  • Notable behaviour features: “Fast, high-pitch call” (the only factor that recognizably distinguishes it from the Gray Tree Frog); climbs tall trees; can quickly change colours
  • Status: Not at risk
  1. Gray Tree Frog:

  • Distribution: Anywhere from Manitoba to New Brunswick; overlaps with Cope’s Gray Tree Frog
  • Texture: Rough
  • Colour: Gray, brown or green; thigh interior is yellow-orange; camouflages itself based on surroundings (hinted in the latter part of its Latin name, “versicolor”)
  • Markings: Dark “blotches” scattered on its back; large, bright circle under its eyes that is darkly outlined
  • Size: Up to 6cm
  • Habitat: Trees and shrubs surrounding aquatic regions; prefer older forests
  • Diet: Insects and other invertebrates
  • Overwintering strategy: Remain under leaf litter and snow; freeze-tolerant
  • Notable behaviour features: “Short, flutey call”; avid tree climber – described as “highly arboreal”; a “true tree frog”
  • Status: Not assessed – likely abundant; deforestation could pose a threat
If you spot any of these frogs in your neighbourhood, be sure to record it with our FrogWatch Program!
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Species Spotlight: Western Chorus Frog

Species Spotlight: Western Chorus Frog

Get to know some of the species at risk in the Lac Deschênes IBA with the Species Spotlight series, aka "Sp-Spot". Today meet the: Western Chorus Frog [caption id="attachment_811" align="alignleft" width="300"] Photography by Benny Mazur[/caption] Scientific Name: Pseudacris triseriata SARA Status: Threatened Taxonomic Group: Amphibians Size: Approximately 2.5cm long and weighing 1 gram The Western Chorus Frog varies in colour from greenish grey to brown. Its distinguishing markings are three dark stripes running down its back. These can be solid stripes, broken dashes or even dots (see inset picture). As amphibians Western Chorus Frogs require habitat both on land and in the water throughout their lives, including shallow, temporary water bodies at least 10cm deep such as flooded meadows and ditches (in some cases called "vernal pools"). During the winter Western Chorus Frogs find shelter on land under objects such as fallen logs, but are one of the first frogs to emerge in the spring. If conditions allow you may even hear some calling as early as mid-March, and by April most will be awake and calling for mates. Listen for a repetitive call that closely resembles the sound made when you run a fingernail down the teeth of a comb. On clear calm days you may be able to hear the resonating call of this tiny frog up to a kilometer away. Western Chorus Frogs are primarily threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation, particularly the loss of seasonally flooded wetlands to agriculture and urban expansion. In both Ontario and Quebec the population has been suffering significant declines recently. Between 1995 and 2006 the Ontario population decreased by an estimated 30%, and the Quebec population has been declining about 37% every decade since the 1950s. Where else can you see this species? In Canada you can only find the Western Chorus Frog in Southern Ontario and in Quebec along the Ottawa and upper St Lawrence river valleys. Did You Know? • The Western Chorus Frog is also known as the Striped Chorus Frog and the Midland Chorus Frog. • There are two chorus frog species in Ontario; the Western and the Boreal Chorus Frog. They were considered to be the same species until 1989 as they look and sound almost identical. However, the boreal chorus frog has slightly longer legs and a faster call. But don’t worry, in Canada their home ranges do not overlap so you will only find the Western Chorus Frogs at Lac Deschênes. • The Western Chorus Frog is a member of the tree frog family. Despite the name this frog is not a very good climber. • Frogs have permeable skin which allows them to exchange oxygen even when they are underwater. Permeable skin also makes frogs very sensitive to pesticides, herbicides and other pollutants in their environment. Check back every week to read about a different species at risk that can be found in Lac Deschênes. You can report sightings of this and other rare species to the Canadian Wildlife Service at (819) 997-2800 or on the MNR Natural Heritage Information Centre website. A photo and the location of your sighting are also very helpful!

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