eDNA Success Story: Rocky Mountain Tailed Frog

Advancing our Understanding of Elusive At-risk Species

At the edge of a cold, fast-flowing mountain stream in the Rocky Mountain foothills of southeastern BC’s Kootenay region, a tiny tan-coloured frog hides under a rock. Locating the Rocky Mountain tailed frog and learning more about its distribution in BC have been difficult and costly – that is, until recently. In 2014 a Hemmera team of researchers employed environmental DNA (eDNA), a new species inventory technique, to learn more about this reclusive species. What they learned in one short five-day field trip has advanced the scientific community’s understanding of the Rocky Mountain tailed frog and its distribution – all at a fraction of the cost of conventional survey techniques.

Determining the distribution of species in aquatic water bodies has traditionally been expensive and time-consuming. Conventional survey techniques can also be harmful to the species and surrounding environment, require special permits, and do not often yield accurate results, particularly if the species is difficult to detect. In the case of the Rocky Mountain tailed frog, researchers face additional limitations since the species is not vocal and is difficult to locate due to its small size, muted colouring, and preference for hiding, fully submerged, under rocks in the substrate of the stream. “Even the best researchers are bound to miss individuals using conventional survey methods,” explains Jared Hobbs, a senior biologist at Hemmera with more than two decades of field and study design experience. Researchers also risk harming or killing tailed frogs and their tadpoles during physical surveys.

Alternatively, eDNA survey techniques are faster, less obtrusive, less costly, and more accurate at inferring species presence or absence in an aquatic environment. A typical eDNA survey involves simply collecting a water sample; animals that spend at least part of their lives in that aquatic environment shed DNA through feces, exfoliation, mucus, and urine, which then becomes suspended in the waterbody. “We were able to identify an expanded range for this species into two other areas in the east Kootenay region, explains Hobbs. “We didn’t know these frogs existed in these areas until we conducted the eDNA water sampling. This result defines a significant range expansion for this species.”

Exciting results are also being realized on more than 20 other eDNA projects that Hemmera is conducting for a variety of public and private-sector clients, from arctic grayling, chinook salmon, and western toad studies in the Yukon to frog, salamander, toad, and Pacific water shrew studies in BC. eDNA sampling is non-invasive to the target species, reduces the risk of pathogen transfer between sites, is highly accurate for detection of species in both freshwater and still-water habitats, is effective for detecting pathogens, and is often a more accurate and cost-effective survey technique for species that are difficult to detect using traditional methods. Hemmera’s initial eDNA studies on the Rocky Mountain tailed frog was one of the first commercial applications of this method in Western Canada.

To learn more about Hemmera’s eDNA projects, contact Jared Hobbs at jhobbs@hemmera.com.

Get To Know: Julie vanTol, Environmental Engineer


“At Hemmera, there is great structure and mentorship, and everyone is really approachable and helpful. Hemmera has a great team of people and atmosphere and we all really enjoy working together.”

Julie vanTol is a Professional Engineer and Project Manager in the Site Assessment and Remediation group in Calgary, AB. She works on remediation projects in the oil and gas, land development, transportation, and government sectors, on a variety of land uses across western Canada. Julie’s project experience includes spill response, environmental due diligence and environmental peer review, Phase I/II/III Environmental Site Assessments, and managing regulatory approvals for clients.

What does a typical work day look like for you?

A typical work day may include internal staff meetings, client meetings, writing proposals, project management activities, writing reports, setting up and managing programs, and mentoring staff and career development activities.

What is your favorite project and why is it your favourite?

One of my favorite clients is a downstream oil and gas client. We do a lot of Phase I/II/IIIs for them at their gas station/bulk fuel sites. We get a variety of experience and we have a great working relationship with the client.

Why Hemmera?

I started my career at a small consulting company who were bought by a large consulting company. I really missed the small company feel and have found that again at Hemmera. At Hemmera, there is great structure and mentorship, and everyone is really approachable and helpful. Hemmera has a great team of people and atmosphere and we all really enjoy working together.

Describe a memorable “Hemmera moment.”

The social events are always memorable at Hemmera! No one in particular stands out over another, but we always have a great time, whether it be family BBQs, Calgary Stampede events, after-work bowling, fundraisers or holiday parties.


Hemmera Welcomes Senior Experts Across All Regions


Shannon Bard, Practice Leader, Biological Risk Assessment

Dr. Shannon Bard brings more than 25 years of experience in environmental toxicology, human health and ecological risk assessment, environmental sustainability management, marine biology and habitat restoration, and biomedical research. She has extensive experience leading regional, national, and international multidisciplinary technical teams to tackle complex interdisciplinary environmental problems. Formerly, Shannon was a professor of Environmental Science at Dalhousie University, Director of the Marine Ecotoxicology Laboratory, and co-winner of the Senate Environmental Award. She was also the inaugural winner of the national YTV Environmental Achievement Award.

Tony Missiuna, Senior Project Director 

Tony Missiuna is Hemmera’s newest senior Project Director in our Site Assessment and Remediation group in Toronto. He offers over 33 years of environmental investigation experience for a variety of environmental site assessments. Areas of expertise include petroleum hydrocarbons and chlorinated solvents. He has worked for many legal firms and been retained as an expert witness. Tony’s environmental remediation experience includes environmental assessments for above-ground and underground storage tank releases including plume delineation, design of recovery systems, and design implementation. For the past 10 years, Tony has also been teaching an environmental site assessment and remediation class for university graduates at a community college in Ontario

Trista Hill, Senior Socio-economic and Community Engagement Specialist

Trista Hill recently joined Hemmera’s Whitehorse Community Engagement and Social Sciences team as a Senior Socio-economic and Community Engagement Specialist. Trista offers years of experience managing community relations projects for non-profit organizations and resource companies, she provides leadership in developing and maintaining the social licence to operate through sustainable community development. Backed by a Master’s degree in Community Relations, Trista is experienced in developing social policy for Australia’s Queensland Resources Council and Canadian and international resources companies.

Trevor Janzen, Senior Geoscientist

Trevor Janzen, our newest Ontariobased expert, is a senior Professional Geoscientist and project manager with 18 years of environmental investigation and remediation experience in Canada. He has a strong background in Phase I and II environmental site assessments (ESA) and delineation programs, remediation, legal support and expert witness, and has specialized in vapour intrusion, sub-slab-depressurization, excavation, chemical oxidation, bioremediation, surfactant injection and extraction, pump and treat, risk assessment and risk management. In addition, he has experience researching new remediation techniques – Trevor’s focus is developing innovative remediation strategies that use a combination of one or more of the most cost-effective remediation and risk management approaches to meet site closure objectives, resulting in significant cost and time savings to clients over conventional remediation strategies.

Kim Milligan, Environmental Coordinator

Backed by a Masters of Environment in Environmental Assessment from Concordia University and years of experience as an environmental assessment and permitting specialist for wind and other clean energy projects, Kim Milligan recently joined Hemmera as an Environmental Coordinator. In her previous role as a Project Manager for renewable energy projects, Kim managed environmental permitting processes for a variety of projects, including agency consultation and liaison, stakeholder consultation and involvement, and management of multiple permitting process deliverables. In addition, Kim has worked as a Strategic Environmental Assessment Specialist for the United Nations Environment Programme and as an Ecotourism and Development Officer for the Zanzibar Institute of Tourism Development in Tanzania. Currently, Kim is also involved with the Clean Energy Association of BC, serving as Chair of the Wind Committee.

A Spotlight on Hemmera’s Human Environment Team

Hemmera’s Human Environment team has earned a reputation as an industry leader providing exceptional First Nation consultation and negotiation, public and umen, and socio-economic services and expertise to municipal, regional, provincial, territorial, and national governments, as well as major corporations and independent project proponents.

Our primary strength is the inter-disciplinary capacity that we bring to a project as one of the only teams in Canada to deliver Human Environment expertise within a broader company of environmental scientists and technical specialists. Our unique approach incorporates a wide range of Human Environment offerings that complement our environmental site assessment and remediation teams.

Highlighted Projects

Sustainability for 7 Generations: A Toolkit for Evaluating Net Benefits in KFN Traditional Territory, Kluane First Nation



Hemmera and Kluane First Nation (KFN) worked together through a community-based approach to document KFN’s current sustainability-related values and develop a Sustainability Toolkit to help evaluate and monitor the net benefits of proposed natural resource management projects on KFN’s Traditional Territory. The project’s community-based approach was critical to its success, and included conducting community meetings, one-on-one interviews and meetings with Elders, youth, and Chief and Council. Information shared by KFN citizens was used to develop the local-level Criteria and Indicator framework, as well as a set of tools that can be used to measure and monitor KFN’s progress in achieving sustainable natural resource development on its Traditional Territory.

Casino Mining Corporation, West-central Yukon



Hemmera has recently assisted Casino Mining Corporation (CMC) with an intensive consultation program with the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation (LSCFN). In this role, Hemmera led community consultation related to all aspects of the proposed project. Key responsibilities included the development and design of consultation materials, coordination and facilitation of community meetings, and gathering of community information related to interests and concerns on the proposed project. Hemmera served as a liaison between CMC and LSCFN to ensure effective communication and transparency in the consultation process. This included all logistical aspects of the community work, preparing meeting summaries and an overall summary of the consultation process for submission to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board (YESAB). Furthermore, Hemmera worked closely with Casino’s legal team to satisfy the requirements of the consultation agreement between both parties.

In addition to the consultation and engagement services noted above, Hemmera has also undertaken socio-economic and traditional use services, provided negotiation advice, and has served as an advisor to CMC in their navigation of the YESAA process.

LNG Canada (Shell), Kitimat, BC



Hemmera provided advice and support to Shell with respect to their Public and First Nations consultation program for the LNG Canada Project, located in Kitimat, BC. The LNG Canada Project received its Environmental Assessment Certificate in 2015. Leading up to this milestone, Hemmera provided a range of services including leading and supporting regulatory consultation activities with First Nations and the public, and providing strategic advice and regulatory guidance to the project team. In coordination with Shell and the broader environmental assessment team, our staff helped build relationships within local communities, and supported discussions regarding the project as well as its potential effects and opportunities for local communities.

TransCanada Pipelines – Coastal Gaslink and Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Projects



These two projects, both of which have received their Environmental Assessment approvals, are proposed to transport and deliver gas to LNG proponents in the Kitimat and Prince Rupert areas. Hemmera staff have supported TransCanada in a variety of ways, primarily in relation to their ongoing work associated with engaging the many First Nations in the planning and approval processes associated with each of the projects. For both projects, George Meadows was retained in the capacity of Chief Negotiator to represent TransCanada in project-based negotiations with a number of First Nation communities along each of the proposed pipeline corridors. Several additional Hemmera staff played a variety of engagement and consultation related roles for TransCanada in support of their efforts to engage and establish support for the respective projects.

Our Team

George Meadows, Vice President of Hemmera’s Human Environment team, is a recognized leader in the field of Aboriginal relations and negotiation. He acted as Chief Negotiator for TransCanada Pipeline’s Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Line project as well as the Coastal GasLink Pipeline project. George is backed by Vancouver-based Business Leader Chris Heard, as well as an impressive team of experienced engagement, consultation, and socio-economic specialists working out of our Vancouver, Victoria, and Whitehorse offices.