The Jefferson salamander, an endangered species in Canada and Ontario, has wriggled its way into another controversy over urban development. The dispute centres on a proposed road extension in Southern Kitchener on the edge of known salamander habitat. Urge Ontario Minister of Natural Resources Michael Gravelle to protect the species at this site by signing a petition.
Why does urban development so often get in the way of these little amphibians? Their Ontario habitat ranges along the Niagara Escarpment and western part of Oak Ridges Moraine, which happen to verge on Canada’s most densely populated region around the western shores of Lake Ontario: Toronto and the Golden Horseshoe. They dwell in rodent burrows but emerge in early spring to slither into vernal pools where they breed and lay eggs. Roads frequently present a fatal obstacle. The city of Burlington set a considerate example this spring by temporarily closing a road known to cross a migratory pathway.
This is the same salamander species invoked in a 2009 Guelph standoff between activists and city officials over Hanlon Creek Business Park. A specimen found on Laird Road indicated the presence of Jefferson salamanders in the area, but further studies failed to turn up additional evidence. Ultimately, the development project proceeded.
That Jefferson salamanders live in Kitchener’s Hidden Valley is not in dispute. At issue here is whether or not the proposed River Road extension encroaches on their habitat (TheRecord.com shows a map). The controversy has already carried on since at least 2007. This petition calls for further environmental assessment.
Incidents like this waste countless time and expense in balancing urban development against conservation. Sometimes developers win these battles and sometimes they do not, but overall we see a gradual loss and degradation of habitat. Ultimately, what we really need is a political model in which conservation is not under constant siege.
Photo courtesy of Matt Tillett under Creative Commons licence.