Salamanders can indicate the health of upland, wooded environments, as well as the health of areas surrounding waterways.
Some of the waterways in Prince William County include streams, which were restored primarily to keep sediment out of the Chesapeake Bay, but it is uncertain if a restored stream makes a good habitat for salamanders and other amphibians.
"Nobody really knows if stream restoration improves a biological habitat," said Prince William County Department of Public Works Environmental Engineer Tom Dombrowski. "We know it stops nitrogen and phosphorous and stuff like that from going into the watershed. The reason amphibians are so important is because their skin is so sensitive that everything in the environment soaks into their skin and they're an indicator of the quality of the environment they're living in."
To try and determine if a restored stream will attract and support salamanders, volunteers with the Virginia Cooperative Extension-Prince William (VCE) recently worked with Dombrowski and the Public Works Department to place salamander traps near the recently restored Dewey's Run Creek near Dumfries.
Salamanders use vernal pools, which are pools that form in the spring but dry out by late spring or early summer, for breeding. The traps, made of silt fencing, block the way to the vernal pools, except for gaps in the fencing here and there. Cups buried at ground level in the gaps along the fence line create "pitfall" traps that the salamanders fall into as they try to get to the vernal pool. A wet sponge in the bottom of the cup keeps the salamander hydrated until volunteers retrieve and study them.
The purpose of the traps is to determine several things.
"This is a big effort," said VCE Natural Resource Specialist-Master Gardener Coordinator Nancy Berlin of building the traps. "We're just trying to establish presence, absence and diversity."
Concern for the environment and curiosity brought most of the volunteers out to help build the traps.
"There was a lot of effort put into restoring the stream, and we need to understand how it's affecting everything. This is monitoring to understand that the restoration is working," said Tim Chenault, volunteer and retired contract attorney with the government.