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Species at Risk: The Jefferson Salamander

I visited Rouge Park this past weekend, and I was reminded of how accessible nature is to the city of Toronto. While standing atop a hill overlooking the Greater Toronto Area, I could see the contrast of urban expansion against the areas of deciduous forest within the park. It’s amazing to think that the city of Toronto was once a natural forested area like Rouge Park.

As urban and agricultural areas expand in southern Ontario, suitable habitat for species is disappearing. When we think about Canada’s species at risk, our minds often turn to the large, charismatic species that are impacted, but we rarely think of the smaller creatures that are also losing their homes.

The Jefferson Salamander, listed under the federal Species at Risk Act, is one species in particular that’s found in this densely populated urban area and has experienced habitat declines as a result of land use conversion. It was discovered in Canada in 1976, and today can be found in six regions in southern Ontario, including Rouge Park. It’s a species secretive in nature that burrows into the soil, making it difficult to spot while taking a walk through the forest.

These little critters inhabit mature, Carolinian forests that contain permanent or temporary ponds that they use for breeding. As agricultural activities and urban expansion fragment the remnant Carolinian forests in Southern Ontario, they’re losing their preferred habitat, and are restricted to fragmented woods on agricultural lands. Not only are these salamanders losing suitable habitat, but they’re also encountering barriers such as roads that are blocking essential migratory routes to or from breeding ponds.

There are less than 2500 mature individuals in all of Ontario, a number that may not be enough to sustain a long-term viable population. This is why the Jefferson Salamander’s designation as a threatened species under the federal Species at Risk Act is important - to ensure that these secretive salamanders will not lose any more of their habitat.

If the federal government moves ahead with plans to change the Species at Risk Act, as they indicated they might, the future for these salamanders and every other species listed under the Act will become jeopardized. Please take a moment to let the Minister of the Environment know that having a strong Species at Risk Act is important to you!