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Notes From The Field Blog

Protecting the Great Brecksville Salamander Migration

Posted: 12/27/2012
Posted By: Robert D. Hinkle, PhD
Original Source: Notes from the Field

Longtail Salamander, Eurycea longicauda

There is a spectacle in March that remains largely unnoticed by the majority of park users. Every March night, when a gentle rain falls and the air temperature rises above 45°F, hundreds, sometimes thousands of salamanders undertake a perilous trek from the hidden forest haunts across Valley Parkway in Brecksville to find certain ancestral breeding pools. There the males deposit fertilized packages on the bottom of the vernal pools, and the females come forth to find those packages and lay their eggs on the pond bottom. After a short time, the eggs hatch to become tiny salamander larvae, the next generation of salamanders in a ritual thousands of years old. Park staff close a section of Valley Parkway between Chippewa Creek Drive and Deer Lick Cave in Brecksville whenever the migration might take place.

The journey is becoming more and more perilous. However, many people know of the migration, and they come out to watch whenever it rains. Four years ago, I found a group of a dozen children with adult leaders who were gathering up salamanders in two large buckets. "What are you doing with the salamanders?" I asked, not in uniform that night. "Oh, we come every year and gather salamanders to give to our children and neighbors for pets," they replied. On just one night, several hundred salamanders would have disappeared, and then met slow and sure deaths from starvation and neglect in home aquariums, and the population of these curious beasts would continue to diminish until finally none remained. Needless to say, those folks were asked to return the salamanders to the watery pools so that these amazing amphibians could continue to live.

That was only one night of many when the rain and temperatures were just right for salamander migration. Other nights I saw cars moving the barricades and driving through the closed zone, running over dozens of migrating salamanders and nearly running down salamander watchers. Other nights, when no staff was present, more salamanders were no doubt collected with no thought to the survival of either the creatures or the survival of this unique population.

Three years ago, in cooperation with park management staff and Cleveland Metroparks Ranger law enforcement, a vigorous program was begun to educate salamander watchers and protect the resource. Road gates were made lockable, and barricades were extended to prevent cars from going around them. Rangers protected each end of the closed parkway zone, and tickets were issued when necessary to those who chose to ignore regulations protecting the salamanders. Brecksville Nature Center staff and dedicated volunteers willingly worked many extra hours to be on hand every night it rained in March and early April until the migration was done and salamanders had moved back into the woods and disappeared for the season. Still, it was not enough.

Migrations happen only after dark. Salamanders are small, and their color is nearly the same as the road across which they migrate. Not everyone who came to see the migration brought a flashlight. Salamanders were still crushed underfoot by those who did not see them, or by stroller or wagon wheels, or were bitten by dogs accompanying their owners. New initiatives are being put in place to protect the very creatures that visitors are coming to view.

Parking areas will be better marked, and parking in front of gates will not be allowed so that emergency access can be made to the site. No dogs are allowed. Volunteers will be stationed along the quarter-mile or so that has to be walked to get into the migration zone as well as on the migration site and vernal pools. An area of the migration zone will be set aside to allow migration without inadvertently stepping on any salamanders. Everyone who comes must have a flashlight to spot salamanders in order to proceed into the migration area. Naturalist staff will be on-hand at the migration site every night when conditions are right for salamander movement to share the spectacle with visitors. Any night with rain in March, all of this effort comes into play to protect the salamanders.

Why, you might ask? What's the "value" of some dark speckled or spotted slippery amphibian? It is said that salamanders and their kin have been present on this Earth for more years than the human species has existed in days. They are functioning parts of a complete, working Earth and have been given to us, some say, to protect and maintain just as we protect and maintain ourselves. There are other measures of values as well. It can be argued that true "wealth" and "value" cannot be expressed in dollars or dinars or pesos or rubles. There are other values, lasting values, values of living things and experiences that create within us thoughts and feelings so powerful that they transcend corporeal value. The values of nature, and what they inspire in the human heart, have the greatest value of all.


5/5/2015 2:04:43 AM by Christine Markle
Thank you so much for all you do. If there is anyway out of staters can help keep the migration safe let us know :)
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