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Tunnels for tiger salamanders to cross Stony Point proposed

  • The California tiger salamander is an endangered species. (City of Santa Rosa)

A Santa Rosa biologist is proposing to build tunnels under Stony Point Road to protect California tiger salamanders that are crossing the road to breed.

"I have been doing road surveys since 2000, and it became very apparent there is this wildlife corridor along 1,200 feet of road, and we find a few dozen to 60 salamanders every year crossing the road, and half are dead," said Dave Cook, a senior environmental specialist for the Sonoma County Water Agency.

The Water Agency has applied for a $142,000 grant from Caltrans to put three pieces of pipe under the roadway near Cotati to allow tiger salamanders, an endangered species, to get safely to a pond where they breed.

Tunnels, a foot or two in diameter, have been installed in Southern California, other parts of the United States and in Europe, Cook said.

"Amphibian tunnels work," Cook said. "It is a wildlife passage issue. It functions just like a fish ladder. Fish need to get up a stream, and salamanders need to get across the road."

Tiger salamanders, brightly colored and 8 inches in length, were listed as endangered in Sonoma County in 2003 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The amphibians live in gopher holes, but come out during the first evening rains of winter and migrate as far as a half-mile to breed in ponds.

One such breeding area is near Cotati. On one side of Stony Point Road are the upland grasslands where the tiger salamanders live, and on the other side is the pond where they lay their eggs.

Cook estimates there may be 200 tiger salamanders using that breeding area.

He goes out at night during the first rains of the season to watch tiger salamanders and, in many cases, he will stop traffic on Stony Point to pick them up and carry them across the road.

The morning following the rains, however, he will be back to look for the carcasses of those that didn't make it.

"If we get warm, heavy rain at 5 o'clock on a weekday, during the commute, it's a bloodbath. There are carcasses all over the place," Cook said.

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