The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, September 30, 2005


Benfield Land shelters rare species

What has four legs, blue spots, and has a penchant for involving itself in Carlisle's larger construction projects? Just as a rare Blue-spotted Salamander was found in 1989 on the land along Curve Street where the Tall Pines development now stands, this past Sunday a twin was observed on or near the town-owned Benfield Land off School Street.

Not likely to stop development

Once the sighting is reviewed, the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP) is expected to protect that spot and any adjacent habitat critical to the species' survival. NHESP spokesperson Joanne Theriault said their goal is not to prevent all development, but rather to work with builders to adjust plans as needed to protect rare species.

Steffi Samman was taking an afternoon walk in the woods when her Porcelaine hound, Chloe, found the amphibian under an old log. Samman has been walking on the land for years. She lives nearby on Fifty Acre Way and says she is "technically an abutter" to the Benfield property.

An "X" marks the salamander location. (Map by Hal Shneider)

Samman took the salamander home, and then started making calls, trying to locate someone in town who could help identify the species. Former Conservation Commissioner Tom Brownrigg was contacted, and he and his wife D'Ann took photographs before helping Samman release the Blue-spot, Ambystoma laterale, back on the Benfield Land at the same site Samman said it had been found. D'Ann Brownrigg told the Mosquito that when they released it, she saw signs of digging where, earlier, the dog may have disturbed the leaves by the base of the log.

At first the cold-blooded animal was "cool and torpid and did not move when being photographed." However, Tom Brownrigg said "as soon as I put the salamander on the ground, it made a bee-line under the log, and seemed very happy to be home."

According to Tom Brownrigg, "the log was close to a stone wall and on the other side of the wall was a field; a red maple swamp was beyond the field." He thought the approximate location lay near the border close to Fifty Acre Way, falling in Lot 4 of the Benfield Land, the area already reserved for conservation (see map,at right)

Adult Blue-spotted Salamanders spend most of their lives burrowed underground or under the leaf litter in mature deciduous forests, usually within 900 feet of a vernal pool, where they breed. Vernal pools are small ponds that sometimes dry up and therefore lack the fish populations that would devour amphibian eggs. For more details, see the Biodiversity Corner article (Blue-spotted Salamander, October 15, 2004)

According to Carlisle Conservation Administrator Sylvia Willard, there had not been any previous record of Blue-spotted Salamanders living in that area, though they have been seen in the east and north parts of town. Blue-spots on the Benfield Land would be expected to lay their eggs in the vernal pool there, which was studied in the spring of 2004. Willard noted that the amphibian eggs seen belonged to Yellow-spotted Salamanders and wood frogs. She thought it possible the Blue-spotted Salamanders might have tried laying eggs in Spencer Brook that year, even though the fish there would consume the eggs. The salamanders, Willard said, "aren't little Einsteins." Another possibility is that Blue-spotted Salamanders moved onto the property sometime during the last year and a half. In any event, one thing is definitely known — there is at least one salamander living there now.

What happens next?

How will the salamander sighting impact the planned construction of affordable housing? To begin with, Tom Brownrigg will submit a Rare Animal Observation Form to NHESP, and the report will be reviewed by a biologist. Blue-spotted Salamanders are state-listed as a species of "special concern" under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act. This category falls lower in protection priority than the other two classifications of "threatened" or "endangered." Once the report is confirmed, the NHESP usually proceeds to designate an area around the site as an "Estimated Rare Species Habitat." If any later building project in the area needs to be submitted to the Conservation Commission under the Wetlands Protection Act, it must also be submitted to NHESP for review. Willard noted that Carlisle has had several projects go through this process already, including Tall Pines, Hart Farm Estates and the Ice Pond development.

NHESP is part of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, and works to protect approximately 450 species of plants and animals listed as rare in Massachusetts.

2005 The Carlisle Mosquito