Tag Archives: wetlands wildlife

Making a Difference in the Salamander Movement

IMG_1196

What might look like a fallen twig in the road is actually a migrating spotted salamander.  Photo: Justin Dalaba, USFWS.

As we slide into our rain gear, the spotted salamanders are already sliding down the hill, making their way toward the wetland across the road.  Driving here was like living in a game of Frogger, only we were the car.  Switching roles now, we park the car and begin escorting as many of these slippery critters across the road as possible.  What had looked like fallen twigs from the car are actually slow-moving salamanders getting crushed by oncoming traffic.  I am joining New York Field Office biologist, Noelle Rayman-Metcalf, on a volunteer mission to document and help migrating woodland amphibians.

IMG_1191

Spotted salamander that emerged from the forest floor on a rainy night.  Photo: Justin Dalaba, USFWS.

Salamanders represent one of the largest sources of biomass of all vertebrates in the forest landscape.  They also can help us by eating pest insects, like mosquitoes that breed in the same vernal pools as them.  Just beneath the forest floor are countless hibernating frogs and salamanders, awaiting the first heavy rain after a spring thaw.

Typically, late March and early April are when they resurface from their winter homes, but with unseasonably warm weather this year, some woodland amphibians came out early.  By early March, spring peepers and spotted salamanders are emerging from the earth, half-awake and on auto pilot to make it to the wetland and breed.  This migration has been happening for tens of thousands of years in the forests of New York State, except one thing is different now: we have placed roads in the middle of their route.

IMG_1200

A spotted salamander waits at the roadside, as if pondering whether or not to cross.  Photo: Justin Dalaba, USFWS.

It’s a double-edged sword because roads have made it much easier to see and document this impressive migration, but now there is a spike in fatality.  Driven by instinct, these amphibians all travel in one direction, while cars are streaming from both.  Some are lucky enough to escape the 4 wheels overhead, but for a vast majority, luck fails.

IMG_1203

Spotted salamander makes his way toward the headlights of a car, attempting to cross over to the wetland on the other side.  Photo: Justin Dalaba, USFWS.

That’s where we come in, acting as a free lift service for migrating frogs and salamanders.  One salamander pops his head up over the roadside, another is already making a slow dash in the middle of the road, and then a peeper springs into the action!  We quickly grab those in sight and safely transport them to the other side of the road.  I can’t help but think about how many slip past the two of us before we can rescue them.  I can only imagine what passing cars are thinking as they see our bright orange vests on the side of the road at 10:00 pm in the wind and rain.

IMG_1186

A spotted salamander pops its head over the edge of the road after coming down the hill from the woods.  Photo: Justin Dalaba, USFWS.

There is a small crew of volunteers in Central New York who maintain this late night tradition when the warm spring rains fall.  This is part of a larger effort for the NYSDEC’s Amphibian Migrations and Road Crossings Project, which so far has helped more than 8,500 amphibians cross New York roads safely.  Others are helping make a difference across the Northeast as well.  In Massachusetts, salamander tunnels have been installed to allow safe crossing.  Some areas have even begun to periodically close roads to allow the hundreds, if not thousands of amphibians to make it to their breeding pools without the risk.

IMG_1166

Lending a helping hand to make sure this salamander safely crosses the road.  Photo: Justin Dalaba, USFWS.

With spring still a few weeks away and sporadic temperature changes ahead, there could be more nights like this. If you know of a breeding location or want to lend a helping hand in this effort for the Northeast, you can find a local volunteer opportunity near you. When you’re driving near a wetland, be sure to use extra caution on rainy nights, and be aware there may be volunteers and amphibians out and about.

Leopard frog

Keeping the Great Lakes great

Today you’re hearing from branch chief of environmental quality Anne Secord and biologist Gian Dodici of our New York Field Office. 

The quantity and quality of wetlands have been in a long decline in the coastal areas of the Great Lakes due to a combination of factors, including water level regulation and development.

Since 2010, our office and partners have been hard at work improving habitat at the Rochester Embayment Area of Concern, a specific section of the Lake Ontario shoreline around Rochester and about 6 miles of one of its tributaries, the Genesee River. Thanks to funding from Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, we’ve greatly improved the wetlands in one part of this area of concern, Braddock Bay in Greece, New York. 

Project Biologist Gian Dodici and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Biologist Heidi Kennedy at Braddock Bay Wildlife Management Area. Credit: USFWS

Project Biologist Gian Dodici and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Biologist Heidi Kennedy at Braddock Bay Wildlife Management Area. Credit: USFWS

Our work started with wetland habitat assessments in streams, ponds, rivers, and bays on the south shore of Lake Ontario near Rochester. We found degraded wetlands with few species and limited diversity of physical habitat. Cattails and a select few other plant species ran rampant, crowding out other plants, invading open areas, and nearly covering the entire wetland. By contrast, a complex, healthy wetland would generally have a mix of open water and vegetation with a variety of different plant types and heights. 

Our office prioritized several areas within the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Braddock Bay Wildlife Management Area (which is in the Rochester Embayment Area of Concern) for our focus and developed plans to restore some of the most degraded areas to healthy, diverse wetlands.

Excavator

Excavator constructing potholes and channels at Buck Pond 2016. Credit: USFWS

How did we do it?

  • We recreated a mosaic of edge habitat by excavating over 22 acres of potholes and open water channels in the solid cattail stands at three sites within the Wildlife Management Area; Long Pond, Buck Pond and the Salmon Creek Preserve. Edge habitats are transitions between one habitat and another. These areas will now be better habitat for amphibians, fish and migratory birds.
  • We also constructed 16 acres of interspersed habitat mounds, as well as islands that are isolated from the tenacious roots of the adjacent cattails. These mounds and islands have been treated to remove cattails, then seeded with herbaceous natives and planted with native woody species such as dogwood, buttonbush and maple.  The wetland potholes and habitat mounds are specifically designed to be of varying size and depth/height so as to improve habitat diversity. The birds and bees will love it!
  • The channels allow fish, such as northern pike, the access to spawn in newly created wetland habitat and will improve nesting and foraging habitat for ducks, wading birds, and, hopefully, the New York State-endangered black tern. The black tern nests in expansive marshes with mixtures of emergent wetlands and open water.
  • We also constructed vernal pools, which are temporary pools of water, within the upland area of the Salmon Creek Preserve to create breeding habitat for amphibians like the leopard frog.
Frog eggs

Leopard frogs should love the restored habitat. Here are what their eggs look like underwater. Credit: USFWS

Leopard frog

See those little translucent eggs in the other picture? They grow in to this striking leopard frog! Hopefully we will see a lot of them in the restored wetlands. Credit: USFWS

Take a look at the aerial video of the Salmon Creek Preserve this past winter after potholes, channels and islands had been constructed.

Where land meets water: Research continues to reveal the value of our wetlands

Wood frog laying eggs in Kettle Pond vernal pool at Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Thomas Tetzner

Wood frog laying eggs in Kettle Pond vernal pool at Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Thomas Tetzner

With American Wetlands Month, May, coming to a close, we’d like to take some time to recognize the importance of our Northeast wetlands and the work that our experts are doing to protect them. Wetlands act as the kidneys for our communities, cleansing water, filtering pollution and sediment, and regulating nature’s systems.

They are most simply defined as the vital links between land and water. Some of their characteristics, such as flooding and insects, earned wetlands a bad reputation in history, and people filled them for farming or building. Research revealed their true values—drinking water, flood control, buffers for extreme weather, different habitats and wildlife, and places for fishing and other recreation—and legislation, namely the Clean Water Act in 1977, marked our need to protect them.

Loss of our wetlands has slowed in the U.S., and while we’ve made great strides, our national remains on an alarming downward trend. A report released last fall, the Service’s National Wetlands Inventory Status and Trends Report, shows that the rate at which we’re losing wetlands more than doubled from 2004 to 2009. During those years, we lost a net 62,300 acres. In the Northeast, areas of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and upstate New York experienced the highest rate of freshwater wetland loss.

Northeast ecologist recognized for contribution to wetlands science

We’re still learning about these unique spaces, and one of our very own, ecologist Ralph Tiner, has been hailed as a top influence of wetlands science. Ralph, the Northeast wetlands inventory coordinator, was recognized by the Society of Wetland Scientists for his seminal paper on geographically isolated wetlands. The paper, “Geographically isolated wetlands of the United States,” was identified and featured in the international journal Wetlands as one of 30 scientific papers furthering the field of wetland science during the past 30 years.

Ralph Tiner

Ralph Tiner has worked for the Service since 1977. He is an internationally recognized wetland scientist with over 200 publications to his credit, including several wetland field guides and two textbooks used in college wetland ecology courses. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of Massachusetts
Amherst and Virginia Tech. Credit: USFWS

His paper emphasized the importance of our nation’s “geographically isolated wetlands,” a term he coined and described as wetlands that are completely surrounded by upland at the local scale. At the time, regulation of such wetlands was relaxed due to Supreme Court decisions.

The term is now part of the lexicon of all wetland scientists, and his definition has been widely accepted as the standard. Among these wetlands are vernal pools,Carolina bays of the Atlantic Coastal Plain, prairie pothole wetlands of the upper Midwest, coastal plain ponds, karst basin wetlands, and Great Lakes alvar wetlands.

They provide many of the typical wetland functions, such as aiding in flood protection and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. They also act as:

1) local watering holes for wildlife,
2) breeding pools for many amphibians that spend their adult lives in neighboring uplands,
3) principal breeding grounds for North American waterfowl, and
4) vital stepping stones for birds and other animals migrating across dry landscapes.

Since isolation promotes development of unique wildlife, many rare and endangered species can be found in such places.

“Isolated wetlands contribute much to the nation’s biodiversity, far more than might be expected for their often small size and patchy distribution,” Ralph says. “Federal regulations typically focus on wetlands along navigable waters and their tributaries, so the upland location of isolated wetlands puts them under increasing pressure for development.”

Some states have enacted legislation to include these wetlands in their state regulatory programs, but many states have no state wetland regulation at all and rely on federal efforts to manage and conserve wetlands. Natural resource agencies and organizations need to work with private landowners to conserve these vital wetlands.

We recently worked with reporter Anaridis Rodriguez at our local news station, Channel 22 WWLP in Chicopee, Mass., to chat about the role that wetlands play in our environments. Watch the video.