American bullfrogs like this are a voracious invasive species in B.C.

American bullfrogs like this are a voracious invasive species in B.C.

THURSDAY SPOTLIGHT: Qualicum Beach’s voracious visitors

Towns and cities on the Island like Qualicum Beach are considering what to do with so many invasive species

Americans are invading Qualicum Beach.

Experts say the invasive American bullfrogs are taking over and they eat anything that fits in their large mouths. And with almost 1,000 invasive plant and animal species listed by the provincial government, the frogs are just one of many species thriving on the east coast of the Island.

Like the European cottontail rabbits, grey squirrels, rats, starlings, Canada geese and numerous plants including giant hogweed, gorse, knotweed and broom, the frogs were brought in by people.

“They were brought here for restaurant use,” said Julie Mackey, wildlife manager at the North Island Wildlife Recovery Association (NIWRA) in Errington.

“They were raised for frogs legs to be served in restaurants. They breed very well and they were released and have taken over the environment here,” she said.

Various sources suggest several restaurants and/or farms on the Island, including possibly one in Coombs, tried this in the 1930s to 50s. The American bullfrogs were first reported in the wild in the Parksville Qualicum Beach area in 1976.

They’re rather vicious visitors, Mackey said.

“They out-compete everything and they’ll eat anything they can find — the smaller native frogs, eggs, everything from eating each other to eating ducklings, native fish species. They can do quite a bit of damage.”

While there are no agreed-upon numbers, according to media reports, one Vancouver Island biologist collected more than 30,000 of these bullfrogs over a few years, apparently without affecting the population.

In Qualicum Beach they are commonly seen around the town-owned dog park near the airport.

“If town-owned property is a centre for infestation of an invasive species such as bullfrogs, then it’s incumbent upon us to act on that,” said Coun. Neil Horner, who sits on the town’s committee on environment and sustainability.

“The bullfrogs are a longstanding concern on the Island, moving north and eating anything in their path,” he said, explaining that the newly re-established committee hasn’t met yet, but he hopes bullfrogs will be one of their key issues.

When he proposed the committee, Horner called it the “bunnies, bullfrogs and broom” committee and suggested the long-term goal should be creating an overall invasive species plan.

“Step one is to stop them from spreading, stop the problem from growing, and then once you stabilize it you can think about if we can eradicate it or how do we keep a lid on it.”

Horner said Australia’s a good example of what can go wrong, where there are now estimated to be more than 200 million cane toads doing massive ecological damage after being introduced in 1935 to eat a specific problem beetle… which is still a problem.

But while the frogs are moving in, they are in fact not at the top of most people’s list.

“Of all the complaints, the feral rabbits are at the top of the list,” Horner said. “I don’t have a problem with natural rabbits, but these were pets and let go and the thing with rabbits is they breed like rabbits because they are a prey species and they need to have large numbers in order to be successful.”

To that end, the town has hired a trapper. In what Horner called the “Fudd file” (as in Elmer), he told council Monday that the trapper has caught seven rabbits. They are working on a plan to allow those people to spay or neuter and adopt them.

They can only trap on public land, unless people contact them to arrange it on their land.

Bylaw enforcement officer Don Marshall said the number of calls about rabbits and deer have increased in recent years but are still not that common and they are not bylaw issues. If there are dangers, people should call the police or conservation office and when it comes to policies, residents should bring their concerns to council.

Conservation officer Steve Ackles explained that the European rabbits found on the Island are officially considered invasive, non-native species and are listed as Schedule C, which means they can be captured and killed anywhere, as long as they are dealt with humanely and following the hunting regulations. Nationally, invasive species are said to cost tens of billions of dollars a year in lost revenue in fisheries, forestry and agriculture. In B.C. alone, no less than six overlapping pieces of legislation address the issue, ranging from the Weed Control Act to the Local Government Act.

NIRWA’s Mackey said that while there isn’t an active program to eradicate a lot of them, they do want to track them. Report sightings at 1-877-952-RAPP (7277).

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