Ol' Jeffy

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Photo Courtesy of Conservation Halton

I have this incredible urge to call the Jefferson Salamander “Ol’ Jeffy” as if they are this incredibly wise, ancient creature that have had their share of hard times but always seems to fight back -- to some extent my nickname for them bears some truth.

I’d actually never heard of the Jefferson Salamander until I started working at the Foundation. But around here Ol’ Jeffy gets brought up a lot, so you’ve got to get acquainted. In fact, I think if the Greenbelt had a mascot it would probably be the Jefferson Salamander. It’s that popular around these parts, and here’s why:

  1. The Jefferson Salamander is an endangered species and protected by Ontario’s Endangered Species Act.
  2. In Canada the Jefferson Salamander only exists in Ontario.
  3. The Greenbelt is one of the few places it resides in the province.
  4. The Jefferson Salamander requires intact deciduous forest (trees that lose their leaves seasonally) with undisturbed forest floor and unpolluted breeding ponds as its habitat.

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Photo Courtesy of Conservation Halton

Unfortunately, much of their habitat has been lost to urban development, so parts of the Greenbelt are ideal places for the Jefferson Salamander to reside.

These little guys are so rare and unique that this week Maclean’s magazine highlighted efforts being undertaken in Burlington, Ontario to help protect them. The 100-member colony that lives in Burlington becomes increasingly at risk during the mating season because they must cross a road that stretches up the Niagara Escarpment to reach their breeding ponds. Unfortunately, the Jefferson Salamander is no match for speeding cars. As a result, each year many don’t make it. This month by order of the City, a portion of this road will be closed for three weeks so that the Jefferson Salamander can cross unscathed. According to the local environment group Conservation Halton, this small effort will go a long way in helping to protect this species.

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Photo Courtesy of Conservation Halton

I remember learning about the danger of animals crossing roads a few years back from the Friends of the Rouge Watershed. They echoed similar sentiments, in that many species were increasingly put at risk because of the development of infrastructure, and particularly roads that were cutting through wildlife corridors.  This issue has grown so much over the past few years that it has begun to be addressed not only by environmentalist and conservationist, but also designers, engineers, ecologists and urban planners. For example, in 2010 I remember hearing of an international design competition called ARC that was held to facilitate new thinking and solutions for wildlife crossing structures. Recognizing an increase of over 50% in collisions between wildlife and vehicles in the last 15 years, interdisciplinary teams were asked to create “the next generation of wildlife crossing structures for North America’s roadways”. Collaborations like this, and the one between the City of Burlington and Halton’s conservation groups are indicative of the kinds of collaborations that will be needed to help protect the Jefferson Salamander and many other species.

-- Bronwyn Whyte, Program Officer

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