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Saving salamanders: SWP proposes changes on Presque Isle to support species

A blue-spotted salamander is held outside of the Superior Watershed Partnership office along Peter White Drive in Marquette. (Photo courtesy of Superior Watershed Partnership)

MARQUETTE — As soon as Presque Isle Park’s gated entrance opens, many visitors are found along the island’s Peter White Drive, drawn to the area’s scenic views of sunrises, sunsets and everything in between.

But many may not know that when they drive around the southwest bend of Peter White Drive during certain hours in the springtime months, hundreds of blue-spotted salamanders could be harmed by their tires.

Back in April, Northern Michigan University ecology student Eli Bieri, in conjunction with NMU Biology Professor Jill Leonard and the Superior Watershed Partnership, conducted a study of salamanders — which typically migrate in April and May — on Presque Isle Park.

The study revealed over 400 salamanders were killed by cars in this short section of Peter White Drive.

The SWP wasn’t aware of this issue until Bieri’s study confirmed the enormous amount of fatalities, SWP Executive Director Carl Lindquist said.

A blue-spotted salamander is shown on the surface of Peter White Drive at Presque Isle Park in Marquette. (Photo courtesy of Superior Watershed Partnership)

Now, the SWP is working to ask the city of Marquette for a traffic ban from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. from April 1 through May 15 on Presque Isle, as that is hoped to serve as a short-term solution.

“It’s just unfortunate and it’s preventable. It’s a really simple solution, so we’re kind of excited that we can help save those salamanders that are currently getting squished,” Lindquist said. “It happens at night (and) often when it’s drizzling, but the park is still open, so people are still driving. And they’re so small you can’t see them.”

The SWP is also looking at installing small tunnels under the road called eco-passes, which will help navigate the salamander population to the Bog Walk’s wetlands near the MooseWood Nature Center, avoiding traffic on Peter White Drive, Lindquist said.

“They’re really cute, those little spotted-blue salamanders. But they’re very slow. That and combined with the fact that they like to move at night, it’s a recipe for disaster when it comes to their migration,” Lindquist said.

Blue-spotted salamanders range from 4 to 5 inches long, but they can remain relatively hidden under logs and are distributed all across the area, Leonard said.

When the temperature warms up and moisture is in the air, the salamanders crawl out from the woods so they can migrate to spring pools — which are located at the Bog Walk — and the only way the adults can reproduce is if they cross over Presque Isle to the wetlands.

“It’s kind of an amazing thing. It’s wet, soggy. There’s usually still low snowbanks around and all of a sudden, there’s just these little marching salamanders that are hiking through the woods heading for the wetland,” Leonard said. “It’s the craziest thing because it happens at night. You’re just standing there … you’re wearing your snow boots and parka. It’s cold and yucky, and you look down and there’s these little animals just hiking.”

The amount of traffic that takes place at Presque Isle Park during April and May is extensive and detrimental to the salamander populations that cross a portion of Peter White Drive, Leonard said. The short-term solution is the road ban but the eco-passes will be more of a long-term option, she noted.

The tunnels, if implemented, will help “funnel” salamanders so they cross underneath the road rather than over and these eco-passes act as “glorified culverts,” Leonard said.

Salamanders are vital players in this ecosystem and it’s important for people to become educated on this topic, she added.

“This is an example of a human impact that’s really local and it (can) be pretty easily fixed. I view it as a possible hopeful story. There’s a lot of environmental impacts that humans do that are really hard to get your head around … But I have never met anybody who really wants to hurt a salamander,” she said, adding, “I think it’s important for science, but also important for Marquette.”

Jackie Jahfetson can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is jjahfetson@miningjournal.net.