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Great Lakes Article:

Feds OK plan to save water snakes
By Rick Neale
Port Clinton News Herald

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has approved a formal management plan to bolster the endangered Lake Erie water snake population.

The rare reptiles are only found on nine Ohio islands and along the Catawba Island-Marblehead shoreline. Citing dwindling snake numbers, federal officials drafted a recovery strategy and solicited public input on Kelleys Island earlier this summer. Biologists hope the population will rebound by about 2013.

Friday, a USFWS regional director in St. Paul, Minn., approved a five-year, $960,000 plan to preserve snake-friendly shoreline habitat and perform studies on the animals from 2004-08. The plan will probably be posted online next week and start rolling off the presses in early October, federal wildlife biologist Megan Seymour said.

Seymour said the final recovery plan received "very minor changes" and tweaks from the draft version presented to islanders in June. Among the highlights:

The goal is to sustain a minimum island population of 5,555 adult snakes for six straight years.

Officials want to secure 4.6 miles of permanent shoreline habitat. Half of that shoreline will be distributed among Kelleys Island and the Bass Islands, and the bulk of that will be public lands including Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial and Middle Bass Island State Park.

A bit further inland, 126 acres will be designated permanent hibernation habitat. Half of that acreage will be set aside on those four islands.
Public education programs, biological studies and private property "snake easements" are also planned.

"It's not just getting more snakes," Seymour said. "It's continuing to do the outreach, continuing to monitor the population to make sure the numbers don't drop down below our acceptable levels. It's not just getting another 50 snakes."

Last year, Ohio's Lake Erie water snake island population was estimated at 5,473 adult animals.

Seymour said USFWS received public comment from 32 citizens and organizations -- and many questioned the program's million-dollar price tag. "People didn't feel that it was necessary to spend that kind of money on snake recovery," she said.

Other complaining opinions stated the snakes were a nuisance, arguing there are too many to begin with.

Three environmental organizations endorsed the USFWS initiative, including the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Seymour said.

The public comments will be listed in an appendix, accompanied by written responses from the federal agency. Seymour said additional details were added to the report explaining the budgetary rationale.

The reptiles were added to the federal threatened species list in August 1999, then became a state endangered species in May 2000.

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