Chaperones to an
By KEVIN COYNE
New York Times
Published: April 2, 2009
He moved tentatively off the mulchy shoulder of the road, the
first to emerge from the wooded hillside as darkness fell and
coyotes howled in the distance, craning his neck as he prepared
to make the most perilous journey of his life. He seemed
startled to find a taller creature standing before him on the
rain-slicked asphalt, freezing him for an instant in a
"We got one," Kris Schantz said, and then she stepped aside to
let the night's pioneer spotted salamander continue on his
annual spring migration in a rural section of Warren County. He
was heading for the vernal pool on the other side of the road
where he was born, and where his instinct told him his offspring
should be born.
In these worrisome times, everybody could use a little help
getting across the hard roads of life, and 10 people had come
out in the chill rain on this night to help a slow parade of
amphibians cross the hardest road of theirs.
"There's a wood frog over here!" one of the other volunteers
"Toad!" called another.
"Salamander!" called a third.
They stood at wide intervals along the double-yellow line, their
headlamps making them look like a team of miners filing toward a
coal seam. Sweeping their flashlights back and forth across the
road, which had been closed for the night in deference to the
amphibians, they each patrolled a 15-meter stretch bounded by
squat orange cones and recorded on a clipboard what they saw.
"It's just magic," said Tom Koven, 64, a retired sea captain
from Bethlehem Township, who counted two more salamanders as he
patrolled the westernmost segment, the opposite end from Ms.
Schantz's. "It's like ?Midsummer Night's Dream.' All the sudden
they're just everywhere, crawling along - the salamanders do a
dance, the frogs do their singing. It's something that goes on
below everybody's realization of what's going on all around,
this whole intricate dance of life, and you just wonder how many
other things are going on like that."
Among the most charming, and vulnerable, rites of spring is the
annual migration of amphibians from their winter residences -
the snug burrows where they have been hibernating beneath the
leaf litter of autumn - to the shallow pools where they breed.
Most migrations proceed unseen, deep in untrafficked swaths of
open land. But some amphibians in this densely settled state are
unlucky enough to have a road standing between them and their
goal. Evolution has taught them how to find their way back to
their natal pools, but it hasn't yet equipped them to deal with
the implications of the internal combustion engine.
At the wrong moment during the migration's peak, "one car can
wipe out like 50 percent of them just in one passing," said Ms.
Schantz, a biologist with the Endangered and Nongame Species
Program in the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife.
And so she and the volunteers watched protectively over a
crossing whose location they would reveal only to those who
swore to keep it secret. For the second year in a row, they were
shielding the amphibians from those who would come to capture
them to keep or to sell as pets, as well as from those who would
come simply to watch, but whose cars and feet might turn the
amphibians to smudges on the road.
The amphibians start moving on the first rainy nights in March
when the temperature rises above freezing. If the rain is heavy,
all the amphibians in a certain neighborhood may move at once,
hundreds at a time, a migration of biblical scale. If rain is
sparse and intermittent, as it was this March, so too is the
migration. Volunteers start driving slowly along back roads when
the evenings grow damp and warm, looking for shiny little
creatures on the shoulders.
"You literally wait all year for one night in the rain," said
Mike Anderson, a sanctuary director in Bernardsville for the New
Jersey Audubon Society, which has been working with the state
and the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey to monitor
the amphibians' road crossings, and find ways to improve their
odds. (Amphibian populations are declining worldwide, though
there are no statistics to show by precisely how much here in
New Jersey.) More road closings - this is one of only a handful
in the state - would help, as would culverts that offer a safer
passage beneath the roads.
The volunteers had been out on this road on a Sunday night
several weeks earlier, when the rain was spotty, and so was the
traffic of amphibians. Lightning forced an early shutdown, at
4:20 a.m., and when Ms. Schantz returned a few minutes later to
collect the cones and barricades that had closed the road, she
spotted dozens of salamanders and toads crossing, uncounted, in
the heavy rain. On this night, the second and last survey this
spring, the rain was slow and steady.
"Why kill something if you don't have to?" asked Charlie Fineran,
a retired state police sergeant from Allamuchy who had spotted
about 15 amphibians in his section, more than on that earlier
Sunday, but fewer than on a rainier night last year. "I was out
for two and half hours then, and I had 85."
A replacement shift arrived, and Mr. Anderson drove gingerly
away. "That one's already flat," he said, pointing out the
remnants of a salamander that had tried to cross beyond the
blockaded zone, and the watchful eyes of the volunteers. Mr.
Anderson inched and swerved along, doing his best not to add any
others to the toll.
Township right to give
critters the right of way
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
The clash between wildlife and human
civilization has prompted several public policy debates in New
Jersey. It has resulted in animal-only overpasses on Interstate
78. Some townships have put up "duck crossing" signs to give
moms and broods a fighting chance to navigate traffic. Cape May
is debating the "rights" of feral cats to dine on endangered
water fowl. The on-again, off-again black bear hunt warms up
passions like no other debate.
But the wood frog? The spotted salamander? The Jefferson
Chances are, most people know as much about amphibians as
amphibians know about traffic laws. As a result, these critters
tend to lose the battle when they emerge in early spring,
seeking out vernal pools in which to deposit their eggs -- and
have to cross a road. Environmental officials say up to 75
percent of them can be killed off at these times. Some, like the
spotted salamander, are on the endangered list.
Happily, though, the annual trek of frogs and salamanders has
become a rite of spring for people who enjoy going out at night
with flashlights to witness it. The amphibians are predictable,
coming out on the first rainy nights when the temperature stays
One municipality, Independence Township, has taken the lead on
behalf of wood frogs and salamanders and will close a stretch of
Shades of Death Road on nights when hopping and skittering is
the chief mode of transport. Mayor Bob Giordano says he doesn't
expect the temporary inconvenience to be a big deal -- except to
the four-leggers who will enjoy the right of way.
Not every town can close every road where endangered species
wander, but who knows where this could lead? Around the world,
the plight of sea turtles has led to people watching their
egg-laying and safeguarding their nests. It's become a vital
part of eco-tourism. Closer to home, Knowlton Township extols
another species with its annual Beaver Day parade and
Independence Twp. helps
frogs get to the other side
Sunday, February 17,
By LYNN OLANOFF
INDEPENDENCE TWP. |
Mike Anderson still
remembers the time he helped carry 437 frogs and salamanders
across Shades of Death Road. But it wasn't enough. When he and
the other "amphibian crossing guards" returned to the road an
hour later, hundreds more had come down off the hills on the
road's northern side.
They were all dead,
crushed by car tires.
"It looked like a
massacre," said Anderson, a wildlife sanctuary director with the
New Jersey Audubon Society. "That will stay with me for a long
This March, Anderson and
other volunteers will be back to help the area's wood frogs and
spotted and Jefferson salamanders. They cross Shades of Death
Road to get to vernal ponds on the other side to lay eggs. The
crossing is habitual; whenever the first warm, rainy night
happens in mid-March, the amphibians come out in force.
This year, Independence
amphibians will be getting extra help in addition to their
crossing guards. The township committee has agreed to close
Shades of Death Road when the frogs and salamanders cross.
Mayor Bob Giordano said
the committee had no reservations about closing the road.
"Not at all," he said.
"Most of the people are environmentally conscious.
"If we keep the road
open, because of the traffic, we could lose 70 to 75 percent of
In Montville Township,
Morris County, cars essentially wiped out the local population
of blue spotted salamanders, which are an endangered species,
"It's becoming more and
more of a problem as traffic increases in New Jersey," he said.
"In more rural parts of the state, we still have time left."
The state Division of
Fish and Wildlife has been tracking the effects of vehicles on
amphibian crossings since 2002. The results are in line with
national results, which show vehicles have killed 50 to 100
percent of the species, Fish and Wildlife Senior Zoologist Kris
"Our research has shown
that 52 to 71 percent of crossing amphibians were killed just in
a two-hour period, not even overnight," she said.
Schantz and Anderson are
hopeful other municipalities will follow Independence's lead and
close their roads where amphibians cross to lay eggs. There are
hundreds of known crossing spots in the state, but no other
governing bodies have agreed to road closures, Schantz said.
"We really want to give
Independence high accolades for being a leader," she said. "No
citizen likes a road closure because it's very inconvenient."
Reporter Lynn Olanoff can
be reached at 908-475-8044 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Saving New Jersey's salamanders, frogs,
By REBECCA SANTANA
Associated Press Writer
March 14, 2007, 7:34 PM EDT
TRENTON, N.J. -- Squish. That's the sound that dozens of
volunteers who are working to protect New Jersey's salamanders,
frogs and toads do not like to hear.
For the last three years at this time in late winter, dozens of
people from around the Garden State have been gathering to
prevent carnage to the state's amphibian population.
When the conditions are right, in a process that occurs over
just a few hours as if an unseen director has just yelled
"Action!", many types of salamanders, toads and frogs come out
of the woods or down from the hills and migrate en masse to
ponds where they will then mate.
"It's one of the most amazing things you've ever seen, if you
find migrating amphibians amazing," said Mike Anderson of the
New Jersey Audubon Society, who clearly does.
The problem is that in the most densely populated state in the
country amphibian migration often involves crossing roads and
streets where a slow salamander can end up as roadkill.
So volunteers, organized by the Department of Environmental
Protection in cooperation with environmental groups such as New
Jersey Audubon, organize to help the little critters find love
and fresh water.
The locations where volunteers gather are mostly in northwestern
New Jersey, specifically Warren and Sussex counties, although
migrations do happen in other areas of the state.
Conditions have to be perfect for the migration to occur _
conditions, that is, that slimy creatures with a fondness for
moist places would consider perfect. It must be raining, the
ground must be thawed out, the temperature must be between 35
and 45 degrees Fahrenheit and the sun must be down, said
At some sites, volunteers serve as crossing guards and
physically pick up the amphibians and carry them to the other
side of the road so they can continue their journey.
At other sites, volunteers count how many of the amphibians make
it to the other side of the road _ and how many don't. At some
locations, traffic during this mass migration is redirected
during the time the amphibians are on the road.
Other volunteers go out to look for sites where frogs, toads and
salamanders may be crossing so the site can be monitored the
"Going out there at night and seeing these things run over, it's
heartbreaking to witness," said Melissa Craddock, a biologist
with the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey. "I like all
wildlife. It's neat when you see a heavy-bodied salamander
crossing the road ... and just knowing that you're helping it to
Craddock, who helped start the Amphibian Crossing Survey, said
the goal is to use the data collected to eventually figure out
where it might be best to close roads or build culverts
underneath so the amphibians can cross safely.
Saving amphibians isn't easy
Sunday, March 19, 2006
BY FRED J. AUN
For the Star-Ledger
The life of a scientist can sometimes be troubling. Kris
Schantz, a biologist with the state Division of Fish and
Wildlife's Endangered and Non-game Species Program (ENSP),
spends her days working to protect and save New Jersey's
beleaguered amphibians. But one night last week -- for the sake
of science -- she stood by and watched as dozens of frogs,
salamanders and newts were crushed beneath the tires of cars.
The squishing would have happened even if Schantz wasn't hanging
out at Spring Valley Road in Warren County. In fact, it was
happening on countless roads throughout the state as amphibians
found the weather warm and wet enough last Sunday and Monday
nights to venture out in search of mates.
Schantz, colleagues from ENSP and volunteers with the New Jersey
Audubon Society, want to prevent the yearly carnage. One
solution would be to elevate, by a foot to 18 inches, roads that
pass between amphibian wintering areas and the critters' watery
warm-weather habitats. En route to the beckoning wetlands each
year, the animals could then safely hop, wiggle and scurry
beneath the elevated roads. It will take federal grant
money to pay for these projects, and the United States
Department of Transportation won't consider proposals unless
there's scientific documentation a problem exists. Which
brings us back to Schantz and her night of horror. Along with
the Audubon Society members, she and fellow biologists chose
three places to observe the annual amphibian trek from winter
hideout to mating grounds. The set themselves up at Spring
Valley Road, Shades of Death Road in Independence Township and
Pinebrook Road in Lincoln Park. In Independence and
Lincoln Park, the biologists not only took counts, they also
helped the animals cross. But, in an effort to gather the
required scientific data, they didn't interfere with the Spring
Valley Road crossings. The findings were saddening to Schantz
and her colleagues.
"From what we observed Monday, at least half, if not more, were
killed," she said. "Fifty to 75 percent." Schantz noted that
Spring Valley Road is a very rural route. Less than 30 cars
passed during the 2-hour observation period. In more populated
areas, such as Lincoln Park, it's likely that substantially more
amphibian deaths occur. Schantz said about 100 cars
passed over Pinebrook Road each half-hour. Because of the
traffic, it would be virtually impossible to even temporarily
close roads like Pinebrook to save the frogs and their
friends. That's what the National Park Service does each year to
save road-crossing amphibians on River Road, a lightly-traveled
country route within the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation
Area. Park Service biologist Jeffrey Shreiner said the
government has plans to build a tunnel beneath River Road so the
creatures can pass safely each year. However, Schantz said
there's a drawback to such tunnels: They are soon discovered by
predators. "Culverts are a method people use because it's
cheaper to do than building a raised roadway," she said.
"Unfortunately, scavengers like raccoons and opossums realize
these become passageways for the amphibians ... like little
buffet tables. It's pretty crazy."
Speaking of scavengers, they're the reason people rarely see how
many amphibians are killed each year by vehicles. Schantz said
the little roadkills are quickly eaten by the scavengers,
leaving few signs of the bloodbath that took place during the
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