Landowners and Conservation Groups Team up to Help Species at Risk
(Port Rowan, Ontario.) Turtles and snakes across Haldimand, Norfolk, Elgin and surrounding Counties are feeling a little less endangered these days, thanks to help from hundreds of friends. As part of the Long Point Basin Land Trust’s (LPBLT) Conserving Carolinian Reptiles project, landowners and volunteers across the region are helping species at risk by reporting reptile sightings and improving wildlife habitat on their properties.
“This is the fourth year of the project and right now we are gearing up for fall reptile surveys. This is the season when turtles and snakes tend to be more active and visible and we’ll be counting on the public to once again report sightings of everything from Snapping Turtles to Garter Snakes,” explained Gregor Beck, the Land Trust’s conservation science director. “We’re also hoping to draw attention to the fact that many turtles and snakes are on the roads this time of year.”
The project has already collected helpful information from more than 2,500 individual sightings covering 19 different species of turtles and snakes. These sightings are important in a number of ways. First, they help to determine which species are thriving and which are struggling. Second, they help the Land Trust and other conservation organizations key in on areas and actions that are particularly important for these creatures. And, finally, they can raise red flags about where species are experiencing serious trouble.
“A couple of years ago, we received reports of dozens of snakes and turtles being killed on the roadways in Long Point Provincial Park at certain times of year,” Beck noted. “Based on that citizen-supplied information, we worked with the park to erect fencing along the road, which has greatly reduced the problem.” Similarly, at numerous other dangerous turtle crossing spots, the Trust created artificial nesting mounds so that turtles would not have to cross to the other side to find a suitable nesting site. “It’s safer for turtles and for drivers,” Beck pointed out.
LPBLT’s actions are part of broader efforts by conservation groups to protect and recover endangered species. This work would not be possible without an extensive network of volunteers and the financial support of individuals, charitable foundations, the federal government, and provincial stewardship programs which were established following the passage of Ontario’s Endangered Species Act. “The importance of species at risk stewardship programs really can’t be overstated – now we have the resources to work with landowners who are keen to make room for species that have lost a lot of their natural habitat. People in our region are really engaged with our hands-on recovery efforts and are appreciative that we have some time and resources to help. We are working with landowners across the region in restoring ponds, re-creating snake habitats, building turtle nests, or simply helping reptiles get safely across the road,” added Beck.
And, you don’t have to be a wildlife biologist to participate. “We get sightings from everyone from naturalists hiking through the woods to people just out raking the leaves. Every sighting is meaningful and gives us another clue about how endangered species are faring.” To help average folks learn more about local
reptiles, the Trust has also published a detailed reptile handbook and a number of identification guides and habitat “how to” factsheets which are available on the group’s website.
The Land Trust itself has been busy building dozens of turtle and snake nesting structures, as well as over-wintering habitats (called hibernacula) and other habitat enhancements to replace the natural areas that have been lost through human changes to the landscape. “Six out of seven turtle species in our area are in trouble and half of our snake species are also listed as at risk,” added Beck, “so restoring habitat is really important.”
Fortunately, the Land Trust has found many enthusiastic landowners willing to do just that. “One landowner called about seeing Milksnakes in their garden a couple of years ago. They are now regular “reptile reporters” to LPBLT and their property provides a safe haven of nesting and wintering habitats for several species of at-risk turtles and snakes. “Their enthusiasm for helping species at risk – and reptiles in particular – is absolutely infectious,” added Beck.
Creating habitats for endangered reptiles can be as simple as letting the borders of a pond grow a little wilder, tossing in a few logs or boards (anchored away from the shore to reduce predation, if possible) or adding a sand/gravel nesting pad. Leaving old logs to rot and creating brush piles in parts of your property is another “no effort” way to help some of our shyest creatures, Beck said. “Reptiles tend to be misunderstood, and that’s why our education efforts are also really important,” he added. “An Eastern Hog-nosed Snake can put on a big show, hissing, gaping its mouth and flattening its neck, but in truth it is harmless to humans. In fact, by eating mice and other rodents, many snakes, such as Eastern Foxsnake and Milksnake, are doing us a favour by keeping rodents under control.”
Life isn’t easy for any of Ontario’s over 200 at-risk plants and animals. But, thanks to efforts like those being undertaken by the Long Point Basin Land Trust through a new approach to species protection which combines habitat conservation with flexible management approaches, the future is looking a little brighter. You can help by reporting reptile sightings or visiting LPBLT’s website (www.longpointlandtrust.ca) to learn more about how to help reptiles and restore natural habitats in our region.
Left to right: Hatchling snapping turtle, baby Blandings Turtle, adult Eastern Hognose Snake. All were removed from roadways and returned to safe habitat.