Police close road, giving salamanders safe passage to migrate

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    — PHOTO BY PICASA

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    — PHOTO BY PICASA

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    — PHOTO BY PICASA

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    — PHOTO BY PICASA

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    — PHOTO BY PICASA

By VASHTI HARRIS
Staff Writer

EAST BRUNSWICK – “A hop, a skip and a jump” is what many local amphibians were doing as they journeyed undisturbed across Beekman Road to begin mating season on March 8.

Thanks to a 12-year collaborative effort from the Friends of the East Brunswick Environmental Commission (EBEC), the Township of East Brunswick and the East Brunswick Police Department, spotted salamanders and other amphibians have been able to safety migrate to vernal pools.

“When the spotted salamander population was discovered, and the impact that cars were having during the migration was brought to the attention of the administration, the township was instantly responsive. They immediately embraced our suggestion to close the road to protect the spotted salamanders and other amphibians that migrate across it each spring to get to the vernal pools on the other side,” said Liti Haramaty, secretary for the Friends of the EBEC.

Occurring throughout the late winter and early spring, groups of different species travel to vernal pools where most amphibians mate and breed.

“Our vernal pools are like the ‘oasis in the forest,’ filled with a huge diversity of species including amphibians, turtles, ducks, fairy shrimp, insects and more,” Haramaty said. “The amphibians that have made it there during the migration then mate and breed there. The females lay eggs and when they hatch, the salamander and newt larvae and the frog tadpoles will mature in the pools until they are large enough to leave and move into the surrounding forest. The amphibian and reptile species that use the vernal pools include spotted salamanders, Eastern newts, wood frogs, spring peepers, chorus frogs, pickerel frogs, green frogs, bullfrogs, Northern gray tree frogs, Fowlers toads, box turtles, painted turtles and snapping turtles.”

Officially naming their plan “Beekman Road Vernal Pool Protection Plan (Amphibian Roadkill Reduction Plan)” the Friends established steps in order to protect amphibians from being run over while taking to migrate.

“The official name of the plan is the Beekman Road Vernal Pool Protection Plan (Amphibian Roadkill Reduction Plan). It was first proposed in 2004 right after we found the spotted salamanders and frogs dead on Beekman Road from cars traveling along it during the migration. The plan was an outline of the steps taken to prevent this impact in the future including the road closings. It has been successfully implemented every year since,” Haramaty said.

By watching the weather and other environmental factors, the Friends determine when they believe the road should be closed.

“The Friends closely monitor the weather and other biotic and abiotic factors and make a determination when we think the road should be closed. In a typical year, we close the road from four to eight nights to allow the amphibians to safely migrate,” Haramaty said.

Through their vernal pool protection program, the Friends has helped spread awareness about the importance of protecting the pools and amphibian migration. Furthermore, the Friends encourages residents and non-residents to come and witness one of nature’s annual occurrences.

“It is an amazing annual natural phenomenon right in our own town. East Brunswick has been a leader in vernal pool protection and our efforts have had vast media coverage, helping to spread the word about the critical importance of protecting vernal pools and migrating amphibians. Our efforts have also been hugely successful as we have seen large increases in spotted salamanders and all the other species that use our vernal pools,” Haramaty said.

By closing Beekman Road during migration season, the Friends has helped some species repopulate and thanks the township for valuing the importance of protecting the local wildlife.

“The road closings have also allowed wood frogs to repopulate our vernal pools after being extirpated (destroyed completely) and we now have a large breeding population of these wonderful frogs. Visiting the vernal pools on a warm, rainy spring night is pure sensory joy as the pools are filled with an orchestra of singing frogs and toads. East Brunswick residents are incredibly fortunate that we have these treasures in our town and that our township values their importance and protects them,” Haramaty said.

Haramaty also noted that through the urging of the Friends of the EBEC, Middlesex County has purchased the 70-acre property across Beekman Lane where many of the spotted salamanders and frogs stay over the winter.

“This fantastic acquisition now means that the vernal pools and the wintering habitats are completely protected,” she said.

To learn more about the salamander crossing, visiting safety tips and to find closings for Beekman Road, visit www.friendsebec.com/salamander-crossing/salamandr-crosssing-2.

Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@newspapermediagroup.com.