Former Windsor County forester Jon Bouton was leading an educational vernal-pool walk in the Hartford Town Forest for the Hartford Conservation Commission when he made an unusual discovery. In a bucket holding a bunch of salamanders, he saw one that wasn’t like the others. It was larger, brown, and missing spots.
So, what’s the big deal about finding a Jefferson salamander? This amphibian is more common to the US Southeast. As you move into colder climates, they become more and more rare. One had never been found in the Hartford Forest during the Conservation Commission’s vernal-pool walks. Conservation biologist Steve Faccio told the Valley News that he had done an inventory of the forest 10 years ago and hadn’t found one.
The Jefferson, like other salamanders, travels to vernal pools to breed. Then they move into small tunnels a few hundred feet from the pool to live out the rest of their lives. When they crawl out of the pools, they can become an important high-nutrient food source for other animals such as barred owls, mink, raccoons, red-shouldered hawks, garter snakes, and chipmunks. Some animals even time their annual migration to coincide with the amphibian’s emergence from the pools.
There is a Jefferson breeding population in the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park
. Bouton told the Valley News
that finding one in the Hartford Town Forest was even more of a reason to pay attention to its management and conservation. He said, “Because this is a rare critter and we know it isn’t a very large population, this gives us a responsibility to protect its habitat so that it has a chance of mating and keeping that population going.”