In just a few short weeks, the Jefferson salamander will begin its spring migration after spending a long winter burrowed underground.
Faithful to its home, the Jefferson will return year-after-year to the same spot to breed, travelling no more than a kilometre from home within its entire lifetime.
This trek can often be a dangerous one. During their migration to breeding ponds, many salamanders will confront the perils of crossing roads that now carve up vital habitat. Persevering through thick and thin, the Jefferson has even been found to journey through the basements of houses that block their migratory route.
Urban and agricultural development in south-central Ontario have severely reduced and fragmented the wetlands and forest habitat available to the Jefferson salamander.
Despite harsh conditions, the faithful Jefferson will return to its habitat within these broken areas even when the conditions may ultimately lead to its death.
To make these matters worse, exemptions under the Endangered Species Act will more easily allow for urban development, aggregate mining and wetland drainage – all of which will further impact the survival of this species.
This is not just the story of the Jefferson salamander. Currently listed as endangered, the Jefferson is just one of roughly 161 endangered and threatened species in Ontario that have been stripped of legal protections by these exemptions. The stories differ, but each species plays out its own tragedy.
The Jefferson is faithful, unconditionally, to the habitats that support it.
Anne Bell has been directing Ontario Nature’s conservation and education programs since 2007. She loves to go birding, camping, swimming, and skiing and to play hockey with her family and friends.