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The Spectator’s View: Why we care about snakes and salamanders

Hamilton Spectator,
Paul Berton,
May 8 2016

It's that time of year again when woodland creatures emerge from winter into spring — and into human danger.

Reptiles and amphibians are finding their way out of quiet cold places into busier warm places, and that means we should beware not to hinder their journeys. In Hamilton and Burlington, for example, you might encounter a spring peeper, a spotted salamander or Blanding's turtle on a shoreline walk.

Why the concern?

Because reptiles and amphibians, like other species, are increasingly threatened by human activity. Amphibian populations are declining by as much as 40 per cent globally, and reptiles face 20 per cent declines. In Ontario, 75 per cent of reptiles and 22 per cent of amphibians are listed as at-risk provincially.

Turtles, snakes, lizards, salamanders, frogs and toads face habitat loss and fragmentation, and face death on roads, through pollution and sometimes by careless or even malicious humans.

Other than giving them a wide berth, you can help, perhaps, by answering a call from Ontario Nature. The organization wants people to enlist as "citizen scientists" for the "Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas," a project it has been leading since 2009.

The idea is to get as many people as possible involved in mapping the locations of "the province's most enigmatic creatures" and simply report sightings to the organization. The more we know about populations and migrations, the better we will be able to help protect these important animals.

Indeed, we may be entering an era when it's no longer enough simply to leave a light or invisible ecological footprint. It may be time to take it a step or two further if we are to preserve more of the species with whom — and with which — we share the planet.

For other examples, bee and butterfly populations across North America, devastated in recent years, may be making a comeback due to human intervention. An effort by the Hamilton Naturalists Club and Environment Hamilton to establish a pollinator corridor through the lower city is coming along, with the planting of milkweed and other plants needed by both species.

Meanwhile, urban farming and beekeeping are also helping prospects for such species, which are irreplaceable pollinators for agriculture in Ontario. But volunteers are still needed to offer up available spaces — such as flat rooftops — for colonies.

These efforts and others like them may be a regular part of life in the future for humans who care, and who want to do more than just lament an ever more crowded planet.

Paul Berton

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