South Park Drive in Tilden Regional Park will be closed to all motor vehicle traffic from Oct. 31 to March 31 of next year to protect migrating and breeding newts.
The population of California newts — a native species of the salamander — has been decreasing over the past several decades, mainly due to habitat loss, according to an East Bay Regional Park District press release. The district began closing the road more than 20 years ago for the newts’ seasonal migration.
Alan Shabel, a lecturer in the campus department of integrative biology, said because the California newts are very slow walkers, the roads present a risk as it can take several minutes for them to cross.
“Newts would have been all over Berkeley from the ridge down through Berkeley town into the flats,” Shabel said. “There would’ve been newts all over the hill, but they’re gone now, presumably because of development and roads. Where there’s left are these park habitats protected, and yet, numbers still seem to be declining.”
After six months of dry season in upland locations, the newts migrate in the winter for breeding by responding to the moisture level in the air, according to the press release. Shabel added that the newts travel from the Vollmer Peak area down to the Wildcat Canyon watershed and back, and their migration route takes them across the road and through the golf course.
According to Holly Forbes, a curator at the UC Botanical Garden, the newts’ migration toward water is expected to be completed by February, although it varies with each year. Forbes said the males stay in the pool longer than the females who move out after laying their eggs.
“They move, they eat things, they rest, they feed on insects in the water, so if they’re not there eating them, then that’s a change,” Forbes said. “They’ll be more food for other creatures that might want to eat the same prey items that they do. If there aren’t any other predators, the items that they eat, there would not be a check on their numbers.”
Shabel added that even though the park policy has been important to the newt population and has good intentions, there is currently no evidence of increased numbers concerning the newt population. The policy has been effective in “many ways,” he added, but it does not protect newts who migrate before Oct. 31 or after March 31.
“If it rains outside of that road closure period, newts and other amphibians die in large number,” Shabel said. “It doesn’t protect the newts in the early season and late-season rains when the large adult breeding individuals are vulnerable.”