Locals call for road closure to prevent slaughter of newts

A California newt (right) on South Park Drive, accompanied by a Ensatina salamander. Photo: Alan Shabel

Residents in the Berkeley hills have asked East Bay Regional Park District if it would consider closing a road used by migrating newts earlier than usual, after early rains have brought out the newts and many are being run over by cars.

“With the recent rains, the newts are out in force and are being slaughtered,” said Cindy Fulton who lives on Park Hills Road on Thursday. She said on Tuesday evening a neighbor counted 19, 14 of which had been run over.

The neighbor, Alan Shabel, took a photo of one of the newts (above) which was accompanied by a Ensatina salamander.

South Park Drive in Tilden Park is closed every year between Nov. 1 and April 1 to allow the migrating Taricha tarosa, the California newt, to safely cross the road. The closure does not always correspond precisely with when the newts begin their migration, however. Fulton said last year she and her husband, Stefan Carrieri, observed newts on their journeys as late as May and June.

The Park District said it was looking into whether it could close South Park Drive earlier than scheduled, but it was not likely to happen.

“We sincerely regret any harm that has come to newts who went onto the road after recent rains,” said spokesperson Isa Polt-Jones. “The balancing act for the Park District is to allow public access through the park, while protecting the newts for most of their mating season.” Polt Jones added that if the road were closed earlier, many people would be affected who use the road on a regular basis. “They’re accustomed to using the South Park Road for their commute and they wouldn’t be happy to be on their way to work and find it suddenly closed earlier.”

Carrieri has been taking matters into his own hands, literally, and trying to save the lives of at least a few of the newts threatened by cars on his early morning cycle rides in Tilden Park. Despite the fact he is up there as early as 6:00 a.m. before sunrise, he will dismount his bike and carry a newt across the road if he spots one in the lights of his bike. “I picked up two yesterday,” he said Friday morning. “I put them about three or four feet off the road in the direction they are headed.” Carrieri said he might see about 20 dead newts on a typical outing.

South Park Drive is closed every year from Nov. 1 to April 1 to help prevent deaths of migrating California newts. Photo: Tracey Taylor

David Wake, who has lived in the Park Hills neighborhood since the late 1970s, has been studying salamanders and newts since the late 1950s. Professor of the Graduate School in Integrative Biology and Curator, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at UC Berkeley, he said newt populations have fallen dramatically in recent years, although the closure of South Park Road has helped.

On a neighborhood listserve Wake wrote: “The movement patterns are not governed by human calendars. Males move with the first substantial rains. They migrate in the direction of the creek.  Females come later. But breeding is not completed until the creeks start receding, late in the rainy season. This means that males get knocked off in late October (our first rains typically arrive during the last two weeks of October), and females get knocked off in early- mid-April, when they leave the stream with our last rains. The closure of the road should be extended for two weeks on either end.  I have made this case for many years, unsuccessfully… The tragedy of the newts is that in most years their breeding is completely unsuccessful.”

The Berkeley Historical Plaque Project has awarded the newt migration site an e-Plaque as a place of interest, although South Park Drive is technically across the county line in Orinda. In the description on its website it warns that the California newt secretes a powerful neurotoxin that is one of the most toxic known to man. “If you pick one up, wash your hands and, no matter how hungry you may be, don’t eat it,” they write.

Polt-Jones at the Park District says the organization went through a long public process to get the Board to agree to close the road from November until the end of March, and to educate the public to expect this closure and plan accordingly. Prof. Wake said there are “powerful forces who are opposed to extension of the closure, or even the closure we have now.”

As it stands, South Park Drive will close on Thursday, Nov. 1. as planned.

“Fortunately for the newts, the forecast for the next few days is for sun,” said Polt-Jones, “which means we probably won’t see many newts crossing the road.”

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  • The Sharkey

    Maybe Berkeley needs a Newt Tunnel?

    http://daviswiki.org/Toad_Tunnel

  • Cindy Fulton

     There was

  • The Sharkey

    Interesting! Thanks for the information.

    I’d definitely support the road closures. Or if nothing else, at least some “WATCH OUT FOR ENDANGERED NEWTS ON ROAD” signs that could be put up seasonally.

    It’s easy enough to get around the closure when it happens. It seems like the closure ought to be dictated by when the newts are actually migrating rather than by calendar dates.

  • serkes

    Berkeleyside … all the newts that’s fit to print

  • Jakkarnoir

    Once again, the ‘inconvenice’ to humans in order to help protect an animal species prevails. What a pathetic lot we are.

  • Guest

    I look forward to the closure and love it. South Park is one of the loveliest places to walk in the winter, and a great workout as an uphill bike ride (with no mud in ones eyes!).

  • Guest

    The inconvenience to humans is minor. On the other hand, being run over by a car is a very serious inconvenience for a newt. Can you tell us what’s wrong about putting up with a little inconvenience so that innocent creatures can survive?

  • TizziLish

    This story reminds me of the recent constitutional change in a Latin American Country — maybe Uruguay? — that gave nature constitutional rights.

    The newts were here before us. We don’t really know how important nature’s balance is to our survival.  Humankind, simply because it can dominate, apparently, has assumed everything on this earth is here for our taking and we have no duty to the earth, to nature. We have no idea what value newts might be to our survival.

    The excuse that some humans would have to change their car commute to save newts seems so ignorant, so bullying, so Ugly American/Ugly Human.

    Close the damned road. And, in case anyone is wondering, yes I am thinking about the human arrogance of rerouting water, destroying salmon spawning grounds.

    close the road. Geez.

  • gambolinman

    The carnage on South Park is nothing compared to the slaughter of newts on Pinehurst Road which is never closed. I have seen dozens and dozens of smashed newts on that road.

  • Bury

    Better yet, close this road when rains start and reopen it when migration has stopped. There are sufficient local experts to set the times.  It seems so un-American to close a road, but these salamanders cannot sustain this level of mortality.  I would venture that some of the adult newts are long-lived, perhaps 30+ yrs of age. They are not replaced rapidly.  Dr David Wake is the foremost expert in the world on salamanders: follow his advice.
    thanks for listening.  RBBury, UC Berkeley (PhD 1972).

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    NO NEWTS!

  • 4Eenie

    The Onion on Berkeleyside? That was my first thought after reading the headline. Then I read the article, and it seems a little less Oniony.

    With that said, I appreciate the road closure when walking in the hills in that area. But I thought it was for traffic safety during the rains, not for newt safety. who newt?

  • Marie Louise

    I support the road closure as well. If the purpose of the November to April closure is to protect the newts – why wait until half of the population has been run over by commuters? It’s time to revise the Park’s policy. 

  • Miles

    I agree with Guest’s comment, mostly because I doubt you’ve ever used the road in question Jakkarnoir. Its not exactly a critical pathway – maybe 1 mile long within Tilden park. There are multiple alternative routes, one of which adds about a mile to get around it, and nobody lives within the park area.

  • Urthlove

    As a regular South Park Drive commuter, I find the closure inconvenient, and I TOTALLY SUPPORT THE EARLY CLOSURE of the road.  (I do not appreciate the closure of Centennial for football games, but tough luck for me.)  It is our duty to care for these slimy creatures through whose habitat we trespass.  Close the road NOW.  Or at least put up a sign warning that “the local government agency is incapable of making a decision to do the right thing, so if you drive up this road you will squish a lot of living, breeding animals.”  On the other hand, the python that we saw in Tilden Park a few weeks ago that no one wants to comment about may just eat up the newts.

  • The Sharkey

    I thought Jakkarnoir was trying to say that humanity is pathetic because we would rather slaughter an animal species than be inconvenienced? But the structure of the first sentence is a little busted so it’s hard to tell.

  • Dave harp

    Dear Cindy Fulton and other interested parties:
    You might want to check out the website

    http://www.savethesalamanders.org

    which describes a program for doing what you are interested in, and offers suggestions on starting a program of your own.

    dave in Vermont

  • esjopop

     Costa Rica. They disbanded their military six decades ago. Progress can be slow. Slow like a Newt.

  • http://profiles.google.com/mike.vandeman Mike Vandeman

    The East Bay Regional Park District has lost its way and forgotten its mission. Wildlife should be given top priority. A park without wildlife would not be a park, but something like a quarry. Have you ever visited one? Did you have fun?

    The same goes for mountain biking, which doesn’t belong on our trails. It is wrecking the trails, killing the wildlife, and driving the majority of park users (hikers) off of the trails. Where’s the net benefit?

    Bikes are allowed on South Park Drive even when it is closed to cars. Does the Park District really think that the newts care whether they die by car or by bike?! Sheesh.