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BEYOND LOCAL: Guardians ready to help salamanders during annual exodus

Jefferson salamanders are highly sensitive to environmental disruption, making protecting them a matter of life and death
Jefferson salamander.

The elusive Jefferson salamanders may go on their annual exodus this Thursday evening in Halton Hills.

If conditions are ideal, the Jeffersons will be moving on up across roads, putting them in danger of being killed by vehicles. The Halton Hills Turtle Guardians (HHTG) are ready to protect them as they journey to mating grounds, where they will lay their eggs.

“We physically pick them up and bring them across the road. Once they get to the other side of the road, we just gently put them down and they proceed to a pond,” HHTG founder Peter Duncanson told HaltonHillsToday.

Each year, the Turtle Guardians pull double duty to help keep the salamanders safe during their trek at a location in rural Halton Hills (undisclosed for the protection of the endangered species).

The nocturnal creatures spend most of their lives underground; there, they wait for warmer temperatures and rainfall to come out and propagate their species. The salamanders lay their eggs in large clumps in vernal pools created by the rainfall.

But the stakes are high for the rapidly dwindling population of Jefferson salamanders. This specific species is more sensitive to habitat disruption than most other amphibians. They require intact, robust deciduous forests with undisturbed floors to thrive.

Urbanization, the draining of wetlands and resource extraction have caused their numbers to plummet, making protecting them a high priority. By comparison, cousin species like the spotted salamander are far less affected by human activity. 

As has become a tradition in Burlington, the city has been closing a stretch of King Road to guard the slow belly crawlers against cars. This year, the road was closed on March 1 - the earliest in the decade-plus history of the policy.  

Ideally, the Halton Hills rural road the salamanders use would be closed as well. However, that's not within the power of the HHTG as it's an access point for residents in the area. 

Halton Hills Public Works Director Mark Covert said the Town is aware of the migration, and the municipality collaborates with Milton to erect signs to raise awareness of the salamanders. 

The salamanders live in moist, loose soil under logs and leaves in forested areas. They have grey-brown skin, sometimes with blue flecks on them. Residents can report them to the Province of Ontario if one is spotted. Those interested can learn more on Government of Ontario’s website.

More information on the Halton Hills Turtle Guardians can be found on their Facebook page. 

About the Author: Mansoor Tanweer

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