April 12th, 2008 by Peggy Farabaugh
Our work in green forestry sometimes offers the pleasant surprise of being up close and personal with amphibians. Did you know that 2008 has been officially designated “The Year of the Frog?” That’s because there’s a global amphibian extinction crisis that many
scientists believe represents the greatest species conservation challenge in
the history of humanity. After thriving for
over 360 million years, up to half of the world’s 6,000 known amphibian species
could go extinct in our lifetime. How sad is that?
In Vermont, we have several Green Heros who are working hard to
reverse this trend. Herpetologist, Jim Andrews works out of Middlebury College doing research and
coordinating the development of the Vermont Reptile
and Amphibian Atlas, a map that identifies and tracks changing populations
of these animals over time. Patti Smith of the Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center (BEEC)
in West Brattleboro, VT powers the volunteer Salamander Crossing
Brigades Project. We’ve volunteered for both projects since our boys
were toddlers and have developed such admiration for Jim and Patti that we are
naming two of our new Vermont Woods
Studios furniture collections after them.
Last night we and other volunteers
donned rain coats and boots and patrolled the streets of Vermont looking for migrating spotted salamanders. These
ancient creatures who live their lives burrowed down beneath the surface of the
earth, dig their way out through the dirt and leaves on a warm (well
>42F–that’s warm for VT) rainy night every April to join a mass
exodus of brethren heading for spring pools to breed. Since their
prehistoric journey now takes them across roads, we volunteers lend a helping
hand by setting up checkpoints around breeding sites, warning motorists and
escorting the salamanders safely across the road.
Would you ever consider getting involved in a project like this? It’s actually great fun. You would not believe all the action that takes place in the forest on a rainy spring night. Frogs and toads are everywhere and the chorus from our spring peepers is music to anyone’s ears. What’s
going on in your neighborhood? Don’t forget the little guys… frogs, toads and
salamanders. They are like “canaries in the coal mine,” as their porous skin makes them the
first species to be affected by pollution, global warming and other environmental stressors. When they show
declines in the wild, it serves as a warning to other species. Humans, are you listening? Are you acting?