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Old 11th July 2007   #1
Wes von Papinešu
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Default VT Press: Town seeks grant to save salamanders

BURLINGTON FREE PRESS (Vermont) 08 July 07 Town seeks grant to save salamanders (Candace Page)
Monkton's Conservation Commission is proposing Vermont's first retrofit of a highway to provide safe passage for wildlife, a $361,000 project to prevent cars from squashing thousands of migrating salamanders and frogs each spring.
The commission will hold a public meeting Monday evening to introduce people to species like the blue-spotted salamander and explain the proposed wildlife crossing on the Monkton-Vergennes Road.
"We're giving these animals the Uniroyal treatment right now," Commission Chairman Steve Parren said. "You can reach a tipping point where wildlife can't sustain the losses and you lose the population."
Brightly colored migrating salamanders have attracted dozens of enthusiastic human defenders around Vermont in recent years, as groups of neighbors form spring bucket brigades to ferry salamanders across local roads.
The salamanders leave their upland wintering grounds in late March or early April in search of pools and wetlands in which to spawn. The trek often means crossing increasingly busy highways.
Traffic on the Monkton-Vergennes road has become so heavy it is unsafe for pedestrians to help the amphibians by carrying them across. Salamander mortality is rising.
"You see the dead salamanders and frogs out there on the road. It's quite sad and unpleasant," said Miriam Lawrence, a conservation commissioner who organized Monday's meeting.
Parren, a wildlife biologist, assessed the carnage on two evenings this spring, when mortality reached 20 to 26 percent of the 433 amphibians trying to cross the road. In other years, he has counted as many as 1,000 dead salamanders and frogs in the course of two nights, he said.
Jim Andrews, the state's leading reptile and amphibian expert, describes the crossing at Huizenga Swamp as "one of the most important of the known amphibian crossings in the state." A large number of species try to cross the road, he said, and some, including the blue-spotted salamander, are among the state's most unusual.
"It is hard to imagine that the Monkton Road population can sustain this level of mortality for many more years," he wrote in a letter of support last year.
The Conservation Commission is proposing a series of culverts under the highway where it runs between an upland and a wetland. Wing walls would guide the creatures into the culverts, which would be large enough to be used by other animals, such as a female bobcat killed on that stretch of road.
This will be the town's second attempt to win funds for the wildlife crossing. The selectboard competed for a state Transportation Enhancement Program grant in 2006, but did not receive one.
The $3-million-a-year enhancement program provides help to towns to build bike paths, pedestrian improvements and the like. The enhancement spending is mandated by the federal government, so the projects do not take money away from road paving, bridge repair or other highway projects. Grants require a 20 percent local match, which the Conservation Commission plans to provide from private sources and in-kind volunteer work.
While "wildlife connectivity" is one of the eligible purposes of the enhancement grants, no wildlife project ever has been funded in Vermont, according to Chris Slesar, a Transportation Agency environmental specialist and Monkton resident who is working on the crossing project as a private volunteer.
Wildlife crossings are sometimes included in new construction, he said. Both the Bennington Bypass and the Circumferential Highway provide underpasses for animals.
Competition for the enhancement grants is fierce: Last year, 41 communities applied and 17 grants were awarded. Awards are based on a scoring system that favors bicycle and pedestrian projects, and projects in designated downtowns and distressed areas, none of which apply in Monkton's case.
Lawrence and Parren said they hope to make a more powerful case this year. They are enlisting support from area legislators, for example. Turnout at Monday's meeting can also provide evidence of broad local support, Parren said.
"I'm not suggesting we should retrofit every culvert," Slesar said, "but where it makes sense, we should take that opportunity."
The Monkton project could be a demonstration of the effectiveness of amphibian crossings, because volunteers would continue to monitor spring migrations, according to the commission.
Parren said it only takes one evening of watching the often-fatal migration to convince a newcomer that a permanent, safe crossing is justified.
"It seems so unfair these small creatures have to cross these ribbons of black asphalt," he said.

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Old 11th July 2007   #2
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Amphibians have been rambling around for 120 million years.
The motor car was invented just over 100 years ago.

It's sad there should even be a debate about obtaining a grant...

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grant, press, salamanders, save, seeks, town

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