Does ‘endangered’ rodent really need protecting?, councillor asks

Coun. Dave Loewen asks if farmers should be inconvenienced to protect mole of 'least concern' in U.S. but endangered here

Townsend's Mole is rare in Canada but plentiful in the United States

Coun. Dave Loewen has questioned whether farmers should be inconvenienced in order to protect the habitat of an “endangered” rodent in plentiful supply south of the border.

Council had been hearing from Brad Langman, a conservation project development officer with the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS), about the five different species at risk that have federally identified critical habitat in the City of Abbotsford.

Critical habitat is designated by the CWS as vital for the recovery of a species. If such habitat isn’t being protected by local officials, the federal government can step in to take action.

But Loewen questioned how vital it was to protect the land identified as critical habitat for Townsend’s Mole. The rodent, he noted, lives in a broad swath of the western United States, its range only barely extending into Canada in the Huntingdon area.

The mole has few natural predators and in the United States, its conservation status is “least concern.” But in Canada, the mole is considered an endangered species, with agriculture labelled as the prime threat to the mole’s existence.

A provincial document notes that in the 1800s, the mole’s natural habitat was “diked, drained and cleared to create farmland.” While dairy farms “can provide ideal mole habitat, … increasingly popular cash crops such as raspberries and vegetables generally provide poor habitat.”

Loewen said he supports the mission of the CWS, but questioned whether protecting the furthest extent of the Townsend Mole’s range was necessary given that doing so could disrupt farming.

Given its prevalence in the United States, Loewen suggested that any action taken in Canada has a minor effect on the entire population of the mole.

The provincial document notes the mole was designated “threatened” in 1996 due to its rarity and “continuing loss of habitat” in Canada.

The document also states, “It is believed that populations at the edge of a species’ range, like Townsend’s Mole … have a high evolutionary significance to their species and are instrumental in the maintenance of genetic diversity.”

The other endangered species with critical habitat in Abbotsford are the Oregon spotted frog, the Oregon Forestsnail, the Pacific water shrew, and the tall bugbane. In addition, the western painted turtle and the barn owl could each have future critical habitat identified locally, Langman told council.

Mayor Henry Braun asked whether the designation of the barn owl as a threatened species could result in barns being identified as habitat. Langman said that could be the case, but noted it was possible to erect alternative structures for the birds.