Community Turns Out to Rescue Amphibians at North Kitsap Heritage Park
By Melissa Fleming, Program Director for the Kingston Community News May 2022
On the last weekend in February, after several days of overnight temperatures below freezing, rainy weather increased nighttime low temperatures more than 20o F between Friday and Monday. From 5PM Sunday to 5 PM Monday, an atmospheric river also dumped 2 inches of rain on Kingston. The combination of mild temperatures and wet weather provided the perfect opportunity for local amphibians to make their annual trek to wetland breeding grounds.
Their breeding migration into North Kitsap Heritage Park was thwarted by construction associated with the Arborwood development. To prevent silt from washing into Beaver Creek, a coho salmon stream, workers had erected a 3-foot tall and quarter mile long sheet of orange plastic buried into the soil along the gravel road between Arborwood and the park. On March 1st, Brooke Hammett noticed dozens of rough-skinned newts and red-legged frogs massed along the fence and a nearby sewer pipe waiting to be installed. She moved about 25 newts to a pond and posted the critters’ dilemma on Facebook.
Her post was shared widely and Stillwaters learned of the situation from Dr. Tom Doty, a retired amphibian biologist and North Kitsap Heritage Park steward. Stillwater’s mission includes providing the community with hand-on opportunities to address environmental issues, so we spread the word knowing that many locals would want to help the trapped amphibians. Tom suggested simply lifting the frogs, newts and salamanders over the fence was sufficient to help most of them on their way, so we recommended this on our and Kitsap Environmental Coalition’s Facebook pages. Rescuers were asked to report numbers and species found. Details and species’ ID resource links are at https://www.stillwatersec.org.
By the time the workers returned to lay the pipe a week later, 18 people had reported rescuing over 200 amphibians, including two species of frogs and three of newts/salamanders. Workers apprised of the situation took on rescue operations during the next two weeks by walking the fence line back and forth each morning at the start of work. After the pipe had been installed and the disturbed ground seeded and covered with hay, the silt fence remains until roadside vegetation regrows to stabilize the soil.
NKHP stewards contacted county officials about the amphibians’ plight, but existing regulations require an impenetrable barrier to protect sensitive streams and wetlands from runoff from construction. Concerned citizen Beth Nichols contacted Nam Siu at the WA Department of Fish and Wildlife thinking agency biologists may have more ideas. Nam suggested she file an incident report with the Department of Ecology to alert other agencies in the area. Subsequently, Nam and Renee Scherdnik with Kitsap County Stormwater Division investigated ways to allow amphibian passage while maintaining a barrier to runoff. On March 29th, Nam joined a compliance inspection and the developer was receptive and helpful, voluntarily installing straw waddles over the fence in hopes amphibians use them as ladders.
We don’t know how much the straw waddles are helping, but it is encouraging that so many people, including agency biologists and construction workers, stepped up to address the issue. We hope solutions continue to be pursued and evaluated while local amphibian populations are still healthy. Many North American amphibians are severely threatened by loss of access to breeding sites. Ideally, we can all work together to prevent such declines in Kitsap County.