The Jefferson salamander has been classified as an endangered species in Ontario since 2011. Within Ontario, Jefferson salamanders live mostly on the Niagara Escarpment. Why?
To get the full story, we need to know some basic info about Jefferson salamanders. During the winter, they hibernate in old rodent burrows or cracks in rocks, to get below the frost line and avoid freezing. They like living in moist, deciduous forests with loose soil, logs and leaf litter. To reproduce, they need access to small, fishless ponds that won’t dry out until mid-summer.
The Niagara Escarpment provides Jefferson salamanders with their preferred habitat: moist deciduous forests, cracks and crevices for winter survival and suitable breeding ponds. Most importantly, the escarpment has the right kind of forests and the right kind of ponds with few roads, buildings or people in between.
Habitat fragmentation is a major cause of the Jefferson salamander’s decline. If you put a road between the forests they prefer and the breeding grounds they need, there’s a fair chance they will be run-over. While maintaining and expanding its habitat is the best way to ensure the Jefferson salamander’s future, one municipality has taken another approach. Each year, Burlington, Ontario closes one kilometre of its King Road, allowing these rare salamanders to travel safely to their breeding ponds.
Much of Ontario’s best remaining habitat for the Jefferson salamander is in Caledon, especially in and around Belfountain. If you would like to meet some Jefferson salamanders, Mark Heaton from Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry will bring some of these endangered amphibians to Belfountain Conservation Area for the 21st annual Belfountain Salamander Festival.