A grassroots effort to move migrating newts across a Marin County road has drawn to a close, but organizers hope it leads to a more permanent solution.
For roughly half a mile, the two-lane road in a hilly rural area west of Petaluma travels alongside a large, natural body of water called Laguna Lake. On the other side is an oak woodland: the perfect place for California and rough-skinned newts, which spend the dry season in moist terrestrial habitat under leaf litter and wood debris or inside animal burrows. After seeing a number of native newts flattened along the road on rainy winter evenings, a small group of neighbors led by rancher Sally Gale formed the Chileno Valley Newt Brigade. Gale trained some 50 volunteers to monitor the road and physically transport newts across it on a nearly nightly basis throughout the winter migration. She also obtained grants of $1,000 each from the Tomales Bay Watershed Council and the Marin County Fish and Wildlife Commission, mostly for supplies and safety equipment. Between early December and mid-March, when the project was called off due to local health orders, volunteers had ferried more than a thousand newts across the road, in both directions. They also photographed the newts and logged their location in the smart phone app iNaturalist. In addition, the group counted about 750 dead newts. The goal now, Gale says, is to use this data to support the construction of a more passive and permanent solution, such as fences leading to undercrossings. Gale also plans to use data from a neighbor’s weather station to learn more about the behavior of the local population. “We’re hoping to match our observations with the weather data so we can better predict the timing of their crossing,” she says.