A training event was held by the Harris Center for Conservation Education in the Keene State College Science Center Room 127 Thursday March 24, for it’s Salamander Crossing Brigade program.

Science Director for the Harris Center for Conservation Education Brett Thelen trained a room of students and community members on how to help salamanders cross the road during migration session.

Thelen explained that the Harris Center for Conservation Education, located in Hancock, New Hampshire, is a non-profit, land trust and environmental education organization that sends “teacher naturalists” to 30 schools in the Monadnock region to get kids outside and learn about nature. Overall, the organization has protected over 22,000 acres of land from development in a seven-town region.

Savannah Hobbs / Equinox Staff

Savannah Hobbs / Equinox Staff

Thelen mentioned that Thursday’s training session was the biggest turn out she could remember.

According to Thelen, the migration session of salamanders is a weather-dependent phenomenon that can only be determined when three criteria are met.

“The first thing is that the ground has thawed out. These are animals that have spend their winter under the forest floor, and they are cold-blooded. They need to thaw out themselves before they can undertake this big migration over land,” Thelen said.

Thelen added that warm nighttime temperatures that are greater than 40 degrees and rainy nights are the last two criteria and because of these conditions, the event’s date is determined by weather forecasts

Thelen explained that the job of a Crossing Brigade is to transport salamanders and other amphibians across the road so they do not get hit by vehicles during migration.

“We are not allowed to stop traffic like crossing guards do. We are conveying animals across the roads faster than they can move themselves. We are not crossing guards, we are crossing brigades. We are moving animals; we’re not stopping traffic,” Thelen said.

Thelen mentioned that this year’s migration session started three weeks earlier than any migration recorded by the Harris Center for Conservation Education in the ten years of this program’s existence.

Cassie Baron / Equinox Staff

Cassie Baron / Equinox Staff

According to Thelen, Crossing Brigades volunteers are on-call, but are usually contacted days before a migration may happen. A volunteer must wear warm rain gear, carry flashlights and wear reflective jackets for safety in order to be seen by cars. The volunteer also needs to record the type of species they find, how many salamanders they find that are alive, how many salamanders they find that are dead and the total about of salamanders alive or dead they find.

Thelen mentioned that the Crossing Brigade volunteers must transport the salamanders across the road in the direction they are going because salamanders know which pool they are going to. Salamanders mate in “vernal pools,” which are depressions in the forest floor that fill with melting snow and rain.

“All of these animals, they spend their lives in the woods, but they breed in wetlands and most of them breed in wetlands called vernal pools,” Thelen said.

Thelen explained how salamanders mate in vernal pools.

“The males will go down to the bottom of the pool and they will lay little packets of DNA at the bottom of the pool for the females to come and retrieve. The males and females have no contact with each other whatsoever. The female will pick the male that she wants to mate with, will pick those spermatophores up and then she will lower herself down and have internal fertilization with the eggs,” Thelen said.

One student in the audience commented on the participation of other individuals at the training session.

KSC Senior Hannah Legacy

said, “I really enjoyed the presentation. It was nice to see such a large turnout of people who care so much about our local ecosystems. It’s also amazing to me that this training was a free educational service provided by the Harris Center, whose main goal is community involvement.”

Another student in the audience explained why she is going to join the Salamander Crossing Brigade.

KSC Sophomore Lynne Carrion said, “I’m going to volunteer because I think [salamanders] should have an opportunity to survive. I think we as humans do a lot of things to ruin the lives of other animals around us and if there’s a way someone can help, they should.”

Jacob Knehr can be contacted at jknehr@kscequinox.com

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