Monadnock Ledger-Transcript – Harris Center Volunteers Encounter 10,000 Amphibians This Season

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Monadnock Ledger – Transcript

Published: 05/23/2022 11:33:13

Volunteers have encountered more than 10,000 amphibians on the roads this spring, the most they have ever recorded in a single season.

“It was partly due to the weather, partly due to excellent volunteers,” said Brett Amy Thelen, scientific director of the Harris Center for Conservation Education. She has been organizing Amphibian Passing Parties (Salamander Passing Brigades) through the Harris Center for 16 years.

“When we started, we had half a dozen sites; this year we had 41,” she said. And they had 350 volunteers.

“The more people watching, the more creatures you will see,” she said.

Amphibians such as spring peepers, wood frogs and spotted salamanders migrate during rainy spring nights once the ground has thawed enough and the temperature is warm enough that they can visit vernal pools and wetlands to lay their eggs. During these nights, thousands of animals cross the roads and many creatures are affected, but with a helping hand, volunteers can make this trip even safer.

“One thing that really expanded volunteer involvement was offering Zoom trainings,” Thelen said. “People from 16 different states came forward, and we hope they will take what they learned and bring it back to their own communities.”

The trainings cover why amphibians are important, how to identify species, safety when working near roads and when handling amphibians, and how to count displaced species.

And for volunteers in the Monadnock area, “When the weather looks promising, we email to let them know,” Thelen said. “What we’re saying is ‘Come if you can and stay as long as you want.'”

Thelen said there is one amphibian in particular that surprises new volunteers.

“Even though I’ve seen thousands, it’s so exciting to see people seeing a spotted salamander for the first time,” she said.

These salamanders can live 20 to 30 years and measure 15 to 25 cm in length, and “even though they live all around us”, they spend most of their lives underground. So on migration nights, when they’re on the move, “it’s amazing to see them,” Thelen said.

In conjunction with the Town of Keene, one road has been completely closed and another has been closed to through traffic for crossings this season. These are the only two routes closed for amphibian migration in New Hampshire. This makes the process safer for volunteers and friendlier for families. The movement has grown over the past few years, and Thelen said it was inspiring to see “families next to students” on those nights.

With global amphibian populations in decline and amphibian roadkill a big problem, naturalists like Thelen know that community awareness and involvement can make a difference. Fortunately, the amphibians here have mostly been spared the most devastating effects of climate change, habitat loss, pollution and disease. But Thelen said: “We are starting to see the season start earlier every year. April was the start of the season. Now it starts more often in mid-March.

Conservationists are concerned about how this may affect amphibian life cycles. Most amphibians breed in vernal pools, and recently there has been a smaller snowpack, which fills the vernal pools in the spring, and then the vernal pools dry out more quickly. Amphibians must already grow rapidly in order to survive on land, and this process relies on a cohesive ecosystem.

“It’s moving to see how people connect with it,” Thelen said. “The world is a truly intimidating place; it is difficult to have hope. It provides opportunities to help wildlife and do something that really makes a difference. It’s powerful for people and powerful for me too. There are times when I’m tired and I don’t feel like going out in the rain, but I never regret it. Once I’m there, it’s just magical.

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