By Amber Cowie
Life in the fast lane is hazardous for all species, but navigating southern Ontario’s dense network of roads takes an especially high toll on small animals, such as turtles, snakes and salamanders. Aware of the danger cars pose to the rare Jefferson salamander, the City of Burlington recently adopted an enlightened approach to making road crossings safer for the small amphibian, which Ontario’s Endangered Species Act lists as threatened.
Every year the slender salamander – whose populations are scattered throughout woodlots in Haldimand County and Halton Region, as well as some on the outskirts of Hamilton, Guelph and Kitchener-Waterloo – migrates roughly one kilometre between its wintering grounds and the vernal ponds where it breeds. The salamander almost never strays from its established migratory path. It is not uncommon for people whose homes have been built on top of the salamander’s migratory route to discover the amphibians doggedly trekking through their basements during the spring thaw. In response to the salamander’s resistance to change, Burlington city council decided to close King Road, where the salamander mortality rate is high, during the spring migration season.
“Given the small population size and [this species’] scarce and fragmented habitat and distribution, there is an opportunity here to make a positive impact by closing the road for a few hours overnight,” says Hassaan Bassit, director of communication services for Conservation Halton.
King Road is a well-travelled corridor in Burlington that runs alongside Waterdown Woods, one of only 27 known habitat areas for the Jefferson salamander in Ontario. Burlington is the first municipality to consider implementing temporary road closures to ensure that the species remains safe from high-speed traffic.
“This is good stewardship on the city’s part, and hopefully it offers a model for others to follow,” says Bassit. “Offering dry culvert crossings and occasional road closures [is] perhaps much more cost-effective than rerouting new roads. If we are to safeguard biodiversity, then we have to start exploring innovative, cost-effective steps such as this. The road closures may result in some hassle to local residents, but if we are willing to live through small, temporary discomforts for the sake of survival of other species, then there is hope for many of our local endangered species.”