Danielle Miles creates an unexpected habitat for the Oregon Slender Salamander
By Rachael Steinke
Life persists in unexpected places. Danielle Miles, a biology teacher at David Douglas High School and Backyard Habitat Certification Program (BHCP) participant, witnessed this phenomenon one afternoon in her Southeast Portland backyard.
While moving things around, Miles lifted up a set of aged cornhole boards and came across what appeared to be numerous worms wriggling in the dirt. Deciding to relocate them, Miles quickly realized these tiny creatures weren’t worms at all. They each had a tiny set of arms and legs: salamanders—an exciting discovery for Miles in her urban backyard habitat. Unsure of the exact species, Miles—who also used to work at the Johnson Creek Watershed Council—showed images of the mystery salamanders to friend and colleague Laura Guderyahn, an ecologist at Portland Parks & Recreation. The tiny creatures were identified as the Oregon slender salamander, an uncommon species of amphibian that is thought to exist only on the slopes of Oregon’s Cascade Range. Salamanders typically conjure up images of dense, moisture–rich forests, places they typically call home, but this was a unique case of habitat choice. How did this little–known amphibian end up in a densely populated urban neighborhood dominated by paved roads and housing structures? We may never know for sure, but Miles’s platinum–certified yard is a prime example of why the BHCP exists. “It’s just a testament,” she said, “to how we think there’s nothing in these urban spaces, until we look closer, and then we find that there’s resiliency and evolution happening. Creating a situation where wildlife can hold on is a tangible thing we can do.”
Miles’s yard may currently be the unofficial westernmost documented sighting of the Oregon slender salamander (which you can read more about here), although how many of them call the place home now remains a bit of a mystery. They usually disappear back into the earth when things get too hot, too cold, or too dry, so Miles just makes sure to keep a peaceful environment for the salamanders, whenever they feel like wriggling back around.
Learn more about making your yard a backyard habitat at www.backyardhabitats.org.