Migrating toads teach us a lesson

By Ken Kemmerling

Regarding the Davis toad tunnel, it seems to me that over the past 20 years of ridicule and celebration, the media have overlooked the larger, underlying concern: the effects of habitat fragmentation on wildlife populations.

Prior to the build-out of East Davis beyond Pole Line Road and Fifth Street, thousands of Western toads migrated annually to and from the Core Area Pond. UC Davis professor Charles Goldman was among those who testified to the City Council on behalf of the amphibians when the Pole Line Road overcrossing was being designed and constructed. He has some interesting true stories about the historic toads.

The (alleged) lack of use of the tunnel is the result of human colonization and development of the toad habitat east of Pole Line Road. Rather than lament the tunnel as a failure, we might consider urban planning that extends, widens, enhances and restores wildlife corridors in the city of Davis. This would partly involve removing large areas of asphalt and concrete, and planting landscapes beneficial to target species.

(The only time I can think of when asphalt was permanently removed in Davis was when Central Park was expanded by a vote of the people and Fourth Street was removed between B and C streets.)

UCD professor Arthur Shapiro, after 40 years of personally surveying butterfly populations between Suisun and the high Sierra, concludes that although climate change is detrimentally affecting butterfly populations, the driving force behind regional extinctions is habitat fragmentation. The butterflies, amphibians, birds and honeybees are our allies, who, along with scientists, provide us with critical information on the health and prognosis of our shared ecosystems. (I find it interesting that Julie Partansky is associated with metamorphic creatures.)

Julie was one of my oldest and dearest friends, and a music partner since 1975. We enjoyed working together on music gigs (we played opening night at the Blue Mango in October 1979; we were also founding members of the Rural Sophisticates early jazz band with R. Crumb and friends in 1981), and I later assisted her on many house painting jobs.

Few people are aware that she also worked on the Laguna Creek Stream Corridor restoration project (the southern boundary of the city of Sacramento) from 1988 to 1992, with me, Rod Macdonald and John Zentner. Her tasks included planting native woodland vegetation, establishing vernal pool hydrology monitoring, and maintaining wetland habitats. It turns out that the Laguna Creek project was used as a model for the North Davis Ponds, now the Julie Partansky Wildlife Area.

I hope we can see beyond just using our frog and toad friends as a successful marketing brand for the city of Davis (thanks, Julie). We can look at the larger picture, and collaborate with multiple species to help ensure our mutual survival.

— Ken Kemmerling is a longtime Davis resident and musician.

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