Sunday, June 11, 2000

Water snake receives endangered status

The Associated Press

        SANDUSKY, Ohio — The Lake Erie water snake has been designated a state endangered species by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife.

        The nonpoisonous snake once inhabited 22 islands and rock outcrops of western Lake Erie, a portion of the Ontario mainland and shorelines of the Catawba/Marblehead peninsula.

        Its current U.S. population is estimated at 1,500 to 2,000 adult snakes on eight islands, including Kelleys, Middle Bass, North Bass, South Bass, Gibraltar, Ballast, Rattlesnake and Sugar islands, according to the Division of Wildlife.

        “The Lake Erie water snake is genetically distinct from the abundant northern water snake,” said Carolyn Caldwell, endangered species administrator with the Division of Wildlife. “The historical distribution of the snake has declined substantially.”

        The snake became a state en dangered species effective May 1. It obtained protection as a federally threatened species last August under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. It is also legally protected in Canada by Ontario's provincial Endangered Species Act.

        The state federal endangered species status provides legal protection for the snake with penalties for persons who harm a Lake Erie water snake, or destroy its habitat.

        Persecution by humans is the most significant factor in the de cline of Lake Erie water snakes, the Division of Wildlife said. Loss of habitat from shoreline alteration and development has also been a major cause of its decline.

        “Environmental, demographic and genetic changes can increase the snake's vulnerability to extinction, especially for a species with a small population size and a limited geographical distribution,” Ms. Caldwell said.


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- Water snake receives endangered status