A week before the 2022 New Year, I received a text from a friend expressing his dismay at the great number of dead newts he saw on Alma Bridge Road while he was biking. This was right after one of the December winter storms. Newt mortality on this road is all too common. For weeks after it rains, newts migrate across Alma Bridge Road. They move slowly, and only too often, they are killed by moving vehicles. As of March 7, 6,562 newts have already died on Alma Bridge Road this season.
Alma Bridge Road leads to popular trailheads, a County park, the Los Gatos Rowing Club Boat House, and connections to Highway 17—meaning there is a good amount of car traffic, especially on the weekends. The road traverses the habitat of two endemic Pacific newt species: the California newt and the rough-skinned newt. More than 5,000 newts die each year on a four-mile stretch of this road. This is the deadliest recorded mortality rate of any wildlife species in the entire world. This is happening right in our town’s backyard.
Why should we care about these small amphibians? Perhaps because they are so amazingly wondrous! Newts lay their eggs in water (as in Lexington Reservoir). Tadpoles hatch and as they mature, they crawl, walk, or hop to higher ground, and start feeding on insects, worms and other crawly creatures. Newts can live to the age of 20, and every year they return to water to breed. Amphibians are also an important indicator of ecosystem health. Because of their permeable skin, newts are vulnerable to drought and toxic substances, so monitoring the health of newt populations helps scientists detect drought-risks and toxicity levels. Because they are so vulnerable to toxicity, climate change, and habitat fragmentation by roads, many amphibian species, all over the planet, are threatened with extinction.
Growing up in Los Gatos, I have enjoyed our proximity to open space and trails. Running through Vasona, walking the Creek Trail, and hiking in the Santa Cruz Mountains all inspired me to pursue environmental conservation as a career. But I only recently learned about the plight of the newts right in our town, and I believe that we must act more responsibly toward our natural environment, or we will lose much of what makes our region and our town so unique and special. Taking care of our newts is important.
A recent report found that if nothing is done, the newt population near Lexington Reservoir will be extirpated. In response, in December 2021, more than 100 community members asked the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (Midpen) Board of Directors to save the newts of Alma Bridge Road. Midpen responded by prioritizing newt conservation. Already, Midpen has published a Request for Proposals and Qualifications for Alma Bridge Road Wildlife Connectivity Improvements. Midpen and the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors are working collaboratively to help the newts of Alma Bridge Road. These are critical steps forward for newt conservation.
Los Gatos residents, if you are interested in helping monitor the newts, please visit the Newt Patrol, a volunteer-based group led by Dr. Merav Vonshak that has been studying newt mortality on Alma Bridge Road since 2017. You can also contact the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society to learn about opportunities to speak up for the newts and other local conservation efforts.
Giulianna Pendleton is a resident of Los Gatos and the Environmental Advocacy Assistant for Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society.