Snakes throughout the Lake Erie Islands area are celebrating this week. Okay, I don't know how snakes celebrate, but they must be. Why, you ask?
The Lake Erie water snake is being removed from the federal government’s list of threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. At the same time, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife announced that it will be changing the status of the species from state endangered to state threatened. This reptile of has one of the smallest geographic distributions of any North American vertebrate and is found almost exclusively on the Lake Erie Islands.
In a statement released by ODNR, state Wildlife Diversity Coordinator Kendra Wecker said, "I cannot overemphasize how the partnership of government, university, conservation organizations, and private individuals allowed for this relatively rapid turnaround for the Lake Erie watersnake. The commitment of island landowners, our biologists, and particularly Kristin Stanford, our Lake Erie watersnake Recovery Coordinator, contributed to this great success. Only through this continued commitment will this remarkable recovery be sustained. The snake population on the islands will be monitored and we want to continue public outreach efforts.”
The Lake Erie water snake was listed as a federally threatened species in 1999, and elevated to state endangered status in 2000. The state cited three factors threatening the continued survival of this non-venomous species: small population size, habitat destruction, and direct mortality from people. Since then, according to ODNR, the Division of Wildlife, with the help of federal and private partners, has worked to secure habitat as well as inform and educate the public about this unique species. ODNR established a land management plan on all state-owned island properties to ensure enough suitable habitats were available for long-term conservation.
State Wildlife Grant funds were used to conduct research and surveys of the snake, help establish permanent conservation easements, and to inform and educate the public about this unique island reptile. As a result, the watersnake population has stabilized and flourished; population estimates of 8,000-plus adult Lake Erie watersnakes exceed the 5,555 snakes designated as a marker for recovery in the USFWS Recovery Plan for the species.
I'm no expert, but that seems like a lot of snakes.