Conserve Wildlife Blog

Salamanders and…Seattle?

September 8th, 2011


By MacKenzie Hall, Private Lands Biologist

Seattle Space Needle

The iconic Space Needle, photographed from the edge of Puget Sound.

Last week – literally moments before Irene began her Garden State smack-down – my plane landed on home ground.  I was returning from six days in Seattle, WA, where more than 550 professionals from 21 countries gathered for the International Conference on Ecology & Transportation (ICOET).  The conference offered over 170 combined talks and posters on a variety of research, planning, ecology, and engineering topics that, by and large, had to do with animals crossing roads.

The reason I made the trip was our Amphibian Crossing project (ok, and it was also Seattle, birthplace of the counter-culture that fashioned my grungy teenagehood!).  Over the last decade we’ve surveyed, mapped, and prioritized hotspots throughout the northern half of NJ where frogs and salamanders have to travel across roads to reach their breeding pools each spring.  Enormous numbers are killed in doing so.  The hallmark of our Amphibian Crossing project has always been the volunteer-based rescue surveys – at night, in the rain, in traffic; requiring a lot of hands and a maniacal level of commitment to plan and carry out year after year.  At this point, we’ve got around 35 “high” and “highest” priority crossings…far too many to manually protect in the short-term, not to mention the long-term.  Our long-term solution is to get special under-road culverts installed for these migrating amphibians, and ICOET was a place I could find folks who have done it.

Talking with an ACO rep about amphibian culverts.

Talking with an ACO rep about amphibian culverts.

The conference was fantastic.  It was worth the trip even before the welcome speech, since the first table exhibit I saw was for a company called ACO and their Amphibian Tunnel and Fence Guidance System (can excitement and relief occur at once?:  “Ohmmm!”).  Their polymer concrete design answers the questions we’ve had about dimensions, substrate, and tunnel climate – even providing top openings for rain water, moonlight, and the right amounts of humidity and air flow.


Death is Wack

Roadkill is also Wack (poster inside the legendary Crocodile Cafe music club).

The excitement-relief amalgam happened again as I heard from folks like Dan Smith, who has monitored wildlife-friendly retrofits to existing culverts in Florida, and Dr. Kim Andrews of UGA’s Savannah River Ecology Lab, whose advice for mitigating road impacts on small vertebrates will be soon be published in a Road Design Handbook.  These conferences are always great for networking, and by the second night I was talking toads with a handful of my new ICOET heroes over a couple Naughty Nellie pale ales at Pike’s downtown.

In all, the trip was everything I hoped – a great blend of training, inspiration, and rally.  I learned about what’s possible, and what’s already been put to test.  I met people who can help us not reinvent the wheel (turns out “the wheel” is already mass-produced!).  And, of course, I saw some awesome plaid shirts.

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