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Keene road closes to make way for annual migration of frogs

Union Leader Correspondent

April 26. 2018 10:17AM
Brett Amy Thelen, who as science director for the Harris Center for Conservation Education in Hancock runs the Salamander Crossing Brigade programs, holds a wood frog that was trying to cross North Lincoln Road in Keene Wednesday night. (MEGHAN PIERCE/UNION LEADER CORRESPONDENT)

A Red Salamander was spotted by a Salamander Crossing Brigade volunteer after it made its way across North Lincoln Road in Keene Wednesday night, unaided by a volunteer. (MEGHAN PIERCE/UNION LEADER CORRESPONDENT)

KEENE — City officials closed North Lincoln Street Wednesday afternoon through this morning to make way for amphibians.

The decision was based in part on more than 10 years of amphibian migration data collected at North Lincoln Street by citizen science volunteers working with the Harris Center for Conservation Education’s “Salamander Crossing Brigade” program.

Brett Amy Thelen, science director for the Harris Center for Conservation Education in Hancock, said a rainy spring night with temperatures above 40 is just the kind that prompts a frog and salamander migration.

Thelen and up to 40 volunteers were at the Amphibian Crossing in the first few hours after sunset to take a count. This is the third time this spring the city has closed North Lincoln Road for the crossing; it is to reopen today at 7 a.m.

“Each of those nights we counted about 800 amphibians crossing the road,” Thelen said.

Thelen said one night during a closure this spring she beamed her flashlight onto the street and saw hundreds of frogs.

There were times the migration was so heavy that volunteers couldn’t keep up with the count, she said.

Just one car on the road on any given rainy spring night inadvertently kills amphibians, she said, adding that if people can avoid driving on a night like this, it’s better for the frogs and salamanders.

“It takes very few cars to do a lot of damage,” she said.

The Salamander Crossing Brigade goes out when the conditions indicate a migration; this is when thousands of salamanders and frogs make their way to vernal pools and other wetlands to breed, Thelen said.

The brigade doesn’t typically ask for road closures, Thelen said, but goes out to roads where it is safe for volunteers to assist the amphibians cross the road and collect data.

Since 2006, the Salamander Crossing Brigades have moved 35,000 amphibians to safety at dozens of road crossings throughout the Monadnock Region.

In the past 10 years, the volunteers have helped 9,242 live amphibians across the road at this site, and counted 1,632 dead.

Based on this research, Thelen approached the Keene Department of Public Works last year about closing North Lincoln Road on high amphibian crossing nights. She said she was delighted when city councilors unanimously voted to allow the road closures on “big nights,” for the amphibian crossings.

Thelen said Wednesday night could be a reverse migration if the amphibians have laid their eggs and are ready to return to the woods.

“Oh I’m sure we’ll see some critters out and about,” Thelen said. “It’s a big frog night so we are more likely to see frogs.”

She said the road closures have also created a safe place for families in the North Lincoln Street neighborhood to observe wood frogs and spotted salamanders. “It’s been a great success,” she said.

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