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Recovery strategy for the Eastern ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus), Atlantic population in Canada

5. Recovery

 

5.1 Feasibility of species recovery

At this time, recovery of the eastern ribbonsnake in Nova Scotia is considered to be feasible according to the criteria outlined in the Policy on the Feasibility of Recovery (Government of Canada 2009). The policy states that recovery is deemed feasible if all of the following four criteria are met.

  1. Individuals of the wildlife species that are capable of reproduction are available now orin the foreseeable future to sustain the population or improve its abundance.
  2. Sufficient suitable habitat is available to support the species or could be made available through habitat management or restoration.
  3. The primary threats to the species or its habitat (including threats outside Canada) can be avoided or mitigated.
  4. Recovery techniques exist to achieve the population and distribution objectives or can be expected to be developed within a reasonable timeframe.

The population contains individuals capable of reproduction, it is believed that sufficient habitat is available or can be made available through habitat management or restoration. The severity of threats, methods to avoid or mitigate those threats, and effectiveness of recovery techniques are poorly known at this time. Having said that, the information currently available supports the view that recovery is feasible.


5.2 Population and distribution objectives

The population objective is to achieve a self-sustaining population of eastern ribbonsnakeswith a 95% probability of persistence across its current range. A self-sustaining population is necessary for the full recovery of any species; however, at this time, number of ribbonsnakes required for a stable population in Nova Scotia is unknown.

The distribution objective is to maintain or expand the current distribution of wetlands used by eastern ribbonsnakes in southwestern Nova Scotia. The distribution in Nova Scotia is already limited and the species would likely be further jeopardized by loss of range. The current lack of knowledge of present and historical status prevents any quantitative assessment to determine a precise recovery target. Consequently, two intermediate distribution objectives have been identified, that are designed to prevent the species from declining and to acquire the knowledge necessary to determine appropriate recovery targets.

The intermediate objectives are to:

  1. maintain populations of eastern ribbonsnake at known locations; and
  2. gain a sufficient understanding of distribution, demography, population structure, and habitat associations to conduct a sensitive assessment of population viability.


5.3 Actions recommended to meet recovery objectives

5.3.1 Recovery planning

The goals and objectives can be addressed through four broad, interrelated strategies: Communication and Stewardship, Research, Habitat Managed for Securement and Monitoring. These broad strategies provide a framework for the development of species recovery approaches, help participants identify their role in the recovery process, and can increase efficiency and cost-effectiveness of recovery approaches.

The following broad approaches to achieving the recovery objectives have been identified:

  1. Achieve conservation of currently known critical habitats and new habitats as they are identified, through stewardship, land acquisition, and management actions.
  2. Overcome challenges in conducting research on this small, cryptic species to gain a better understanding of population dynamics and habitat use.
  3. Determine the extent of the range in Nova Scotia and the population structure, abundance, and trends within that range in order to identify the appropriate scales for recovery.
  4. Identify habitat features used for each life stage and activity, and determine if they are limiting.
  5. Identify population threats, evaluate their significance and take steps to mitigate those threats.
  6. Develop long-term monitoring protocols and techniques to evaluate the success of recovery actions.

Table 4 provides a summary, organized according to the above approaches, of the recommended steps required to meet the objectives and address threats. Section 5.3.2 provides rationale to support the approaches outlined in Table 4.

 

Table 4. Recovery planning table for the eastern ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus) in Nova Scotia (Objective 1. Achieve conservation of currently known critical habitats and new habitats as they are identified through stewardship, land acquisition, and management actions)
Recommended approach to meet objectivePri.Footnote aB.s.Footnote bThreats addressedOutcomesTimeline

1.1 Continue public education campaign.

  • Target approach to people who will be living or working on the land.
  • Improve species at risk awareness in schools and promote inclusion in the curriculum.
UC
  • Negative perception of snakes
  • Informed public
  • Promotion of activities that minimize impact to snakes and their habitat
Ongoing

1.2 Support Mi’kmaw participation in all aspects of ribbonsnake recovery.

  • Continue to assist with the facilitation of Mi’kmaq-organized cultural events that celebrate the ribbonsnake.
  • Promote species at risk and ribbonsnake awareness with local Mi’kmaq and facilitate and encourage their involvement in recovery efforts
  • Acknowledge the significance that the Mi’kmaq people have shared a long history with the ribbonsnake in Kespukwitk.
  • Engage youth and encourage them to ask their elders to share stories with them about ribbonsnakes and their habitats
UC, R
  • Negative perception of snakes
  • Lack of information
  • Meaningful participation of local Mi’kmaq
  • Increased public awareness
  • Promotion of activities that minimize impact to snakes and their habitat
  • Inclusion of Mi’kmaq philosophies to ensure the value of netukulimk for the long term sustainability of Kespukwitk.
Ongoing
1.3 Continue to develop volunteer opportunities and promote public involvement in research and recovery.UC, R
  • Lack of information
  • Negative perception of snakes
  • Network of knowledgeable stewards dedicated to ribbonsnake recovery
Ongoing

1.4 Work with landowners, Aboriginal organizations, industry, recreationalgroups, and developers to minimize impact on snakes and their habitat.

  • Continue to participate in the development and distribution of a Best Practices guide.
  • Work directly with stakeholders to minimize impacts at specific sites.
UC, H
  • Habitat degradation and fragmentation
  • Changes to water level and seasonal water flow
  • Vehicular mortality
  • Promotion of activities that minimize impact to snakes and their habitat
  • Discourage activities that negatively impact snakes and their habitat
Ongoing
1.5 Continue to develop and error-proof a central database for all ribbonsnake information in Nova Scotia to provide high quality information and maps to recovery planners.UC, R
  • Lack of information
  • Database available for identifying and planning recovery actions and for identifying knowledge gaps
Ongoing

1.6 Continue to work with other recovery teams and organizations to prevent overlap.

  • Coordinate stewardship activities.
  • Identify and manage in a collaborative manner priority sites containing more than one species at risk.
UC, H
  • Habitat degradation and fragmentation
  • Network of organizations that work toward species at risk recovery in SW Nova Scotia
  • Focused resources on high priority sites
Ongoing

1.7 Collaborate with private landowners, Aboriginal organizations, industry, and government to secure habitat and develop management plans.

  • Work with landowners to secure habitat at high priority ribbonsnake sites through formal and informal agreements.
  • Identify additional critical habitat (see Table 5 for steps to identify critical habitat).
  • Consult with landowners and industry to develop site-specific management plans for critical habitat as it is delineated.
NC, H
  • Habitat degradation and fragmentation
  • Changes to water level and seasonal water flow
  • Habitat secured
  • Critical habitat delineated and management plans developed
  • Fears of property owners alleviated
Ongoing

 

Table 4 continued. Recovery planning table for the eastern ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus) in Nova Scotia (Objective 2. Overcome challenges in conducting research on this small, cryptic species to permit better understanding of population dynamics and habitat use)
Recommended approach to meet objectivePri.Footnote aB.s.Footnote bThreats addressedOutcomesTimeline

2.1 Incorporate Mi’kmaw perspectives on research methodology as part of recovery team deliberations.

  • Continue to openly discuss method approaches and explore alternatives to address, where possible, concerns raised by Mi’kmaq people
NR,C
  • Lack of information
  • Decisions on methodological approaches will be made as part of recovery team actions, with the participation of Mi’kmaq representatives
Ongoing

2.2 Identify the best technique to mark individuals that is permanent, minimizes risk to snakes, and reduces identification error.

  • Continue assessment of PIT tags as a permanent marking technique and refine protocols for inserting PIT tags.
  • Investigate alternative technology to mark snakes, especially neonates.
UR
  • Lack of information
  • Ability to assess abundance, estimate age survivorship, and document individual movements
2010-2015

2.3 Refine visual survey techniques and evaluate the influence of habitat structure, weather, season, and search effort on detectability.

  • Conduct analysis to determine the amount of effort needed to reliably determine if ribbonsnakes are present in an area and under what conditions to maximize search efficiency.
  • Develop protocols to ensure sufficient effort is put into searching new areas for the presence of ribbonsnakes.
  • Evaluate the effect of detectability on population estimates.
UR
  • Lack of information
  • More accurate population estimates
  • Refined search protocol that maximizes efficiency
2010-2015

2.4 Explore alternative means of capturing snakes.

  • Explore the potential of artificial cover (e.g., boards, tarps, sheet metal, landscape fabric) in attracting snakes.
  • Investigate the use of drift fences, particularly around known or suspected hibernacula, to monitor population and locate new individuals.
  • Contact other scientists working on small, cryptic herpetofauna to discover what techniques have been successful.
NR
  • Lack of information
  • Improved ability to assess an area for the presence of snakes
  • Development of efficient, standardized techniques that can be incorporated into the volunteer program
2010-2015

2.5 Explore technology to track individuals to allow us to assess movement and habitat use.

  • Investigate the potential of using harmonic radar to locate snakes
  • Explore other low invasive technological means to track snakes.
  • Continue to explore the most efficient ways to observe snakes and document behaviour.
NR
  • Lack of information
  • Ability to document movement patterns and habitat use
  • Identification of critical habitat
2010-2015

 

Table 4 continued. Recovery planning table for the eastern ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus) in Nova Scotia (Objective 3. Determine the extent of the range in Nova Scotia and identify population structure, abundance, and trends within that range in order to identify the appropriate scales and priorities for recovery)
Recommended approach to meet objectivePri.Footnote aB.s.Footnote bThreats addressedOutcomesTimeline

3.1 Design and implement a Mi’kmaw knowledge acquisition project.

  • Work with the Mi’kmaw community to develop a culturally appropriate Mi’kmaw knowledge acquisition project and submit to the Mi’kmaw Ethics Board for approval.
  • Work with a Mi’kmaw researcher to acquire and interpret appropriate results that would benefit ribbonsnake recovery.
UC, R
  • Lack of information
  • Mi’kmaq knowledge and perspectives contributing to recovery actions
2010-2015

3.2 Conduct surveys and solicit public sightings to determine the extent of the range in Nova Scotia.

  • Continue to solicit sightings from the public and follow up credible sightings with systematic surveys
  • Conduct systematic surveys of priority sites and around the periphery of the known range.
  • Solicit and train volunteers in the region to help conduct surveys.
  • Investigate local and aboriginal knowledge to determine the availability of information on current or historical range.
UC, S
  • Lack of information
  • Negative perception of snakes
  • Determination of the extent of the range
  • Identification of new concentrations of ribbonsnakes
  • Development of a network of trained, local volunteers dedicated to ribbonsnake recovery
Ongoing

3.3 Identify the spatial scale of population genetic structure.

  • Continue to collect genetic samples from known sites throughout the range to obtain a sufficient sample size.
  • Continue to develop primers for a suite of microsatellite loci for the eastern ribbonsnake.
  • Conduct genetic analysis to determine population structure.
  • If overwintering concentrations are found, conduct genetic analysis to determine if they play a role in genetic structure.
UR
  • Lack of information
  • Small population effects
  • Assessment of population genetic structure and identification of the appropriate scale for management
Ongoing

3.4 Evaluate current movement patterns and identify travel routes between concentration sites.

  • Conduct surveys around the perimeter of intensively surveyed sites and in adjacent habitats to explore how far individual snakes move.
  • Estimate home ranges based on mark-recapture studies.
UR
  • Lack of information
  • Habitat degradation and fragmentation
  • Assessment of movement between sites and the effect of habitat configuration on that movement
  • Identification of travel routes to be complete the identification of critical habitat
2010-2015

3.5 Evaluate abundance and population trends.

  • Continue to mark and re-capture snakes at specific study sites to acquire a sufficient dataset to determine abundance, survivorship, longevity, and growth.
NR,M
  • Lack of information
  • Small population effects
  • Estimates of population abundance and trends
  • Collection of data necessary for development of PVA
Ongoing

 

Table 4 continued. Recovery planning table for the eastern ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus) in Nova Scotia (Objective 4. Identify habitat features used for each life stage and activity, and determine if they are limiting)
Recommended approach to meet objectivePri.Footnote aB.s.Footnote bThreats addressedOutcomesTimeline

4.1 Locate and characterize habitat features used for each life stage and activity, particularly overwintering sites.

  • Locate and characterize overwintering sites.
  • Locate feeding sites and identify prey and timing of feeding.
  • Locate other sites used for specific activities (e.g. mating, birthing).
UR
  • Lack of information
  • Identification of sites to complete the identification of critical habitat
  • Identification of important characteristics of these sites and assessment of how limiting they are
Ongoing
4.2 Characterize habitat used at the wetland scale and develop models to predict occurrence and identify critical habitat features.BR
  • Lack of information
  • Assessment of potentially limiting features at the wetland scale that could explain the current distribution
  • Development of models to refine the search for additional concentrations
2013-2015
4.3 Document the response of ribbonsnakes to dam removal in KNPNHS (if applicable).BR
  • Lack of information
  • Dam construction or removal
  • Assessment of the effect of dam removal on snake distribution and abundance
As applicable

 

Table 4 continued. Recovery planning table for the eastern ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus) in Nova Scotia (Objective 5. Identify population threats, evaluate their significance and take steps to mitigate those threats)
Recommended approach to meet objectivePri.Footnote aB.s.Footnote bThreats addressedOutcomesTimeline
5.1 Document current development in and around critical habitats and evaluate its effect on the species.UR
  • Lack of information
  • Assessment of threats and development of a strategy to address those threats
Ongoing
5.2 Evaluate susceptibility to inbreedingNR
  • Small population effects
  • Assessment of the current genetic variability in local concentrations
2010-2015
5.3 Assess the attitude of people toward snakes.BR
  • Negative perception of snakes
  • Assessment of level of intentional killing of snakes
  • Development of best techniques to approach landowners and encourage participation in snake recovery
2010-2015

5.4 Collaborate with Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans, NS Dept. of Natural Resources, and other fisheries and research agencies to monitor exotic fish and assess their impact.

  • Collaborate with the Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute’s current campaign to inform the public about the dangers of introducing these fish.
NR
  • Exotic predatory fish
  • Development of a system to monitor watersheds containing ribbonsnakes for the presence of exotic fish
  • Assessment of potential impact of these fish on prey abundance and composition
Ongoing
5.5 Conduct Population Viability Analysis (long-term objective).BR
  • Lack of information
  • Assessment of the current health of the population
>2015

 

Table 4 continued. Recovery planning table for the eastern ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus) in Nova Scotia (Objective 6. Develop long-term monitoring protocols and techniques to evaluate the success of recovery actions)
Recommended approach to meet objectivePri.Footnote aB.s.Footnote bThreats addressedOutcomesTimeline

6.1 Develop and implement protocols for long-term monitoring of populations and their habitats and threats.

  • Identify the appropriate temporal and spatial scales for monitoring populations and their habitats.
  • Monitor populations over the long-term to assess changes in abundance in relation to changes in habitat and/or threats.
  • Monitor sites over time to document changes in habitat, water level, and climate.
  • Model potential impact of water level, water temperature, and climate change (long-term objective).
UM
  • Lack of information
  • Climate change
  • Changes to water level and seasonal water flow
  • Development of efficient protocols that allow long-term monitoring of populations and their habitats
  • Allow for assessment of how population trends vary with changes in habitat, water level, and climate
  • Potentially, assessment of threats that are not immediately apparent from short-term studies
Ongoing
6.2 Evaluate the success of educational initiatives in affecting knowledge and attitudes; develop a protocol outlining the best methods to approach landowners.BM
  • Negative perception of snakes
  • Development of best techniques to approach landowners and encourage participation in snake recovery
2010-2015
6.3 Evaluate recovery actions as they are undertaken.NM
  • Lack of information
  • Assessment of the effect of recovery actions
Ongoing

Footnotes

Footnote A

Priority: U = urgent; N = necessary; B = beneficial

Return to footnote a

Footnote B

Broad strategy: C = communication and stewardship; R = research; H = habitat managed for securement; M = monitoring

Return to footnote b

 

5.3.2 Rationale to support recovery planning table

A more detailed rationale has been developed to support each approach recommended in the recovery planning table (The Eastern Ribbonsnake Recovery Team, 2008). A complete copy of this document is available from Parks Canada. However, a few key points regarding public engagement are included below as engagement is deemed as central to ribbonsnake recovery.

1.2 Support Mi’kmaw participation in all aspects of ribbonsnake recovery.
The Mi’kmaq are traditional stewards of the territory where ribbonsnakes are found and are being monitored. There are legends and dances pertaining to snakes as well as petroglyphs of snake beings, demonstrating the cultural significance of snakes for the Mi’kmaq. For these reasons, it is imperative that the Mi’kmaq are invited to participate in planning as well as the recovery process. Participation will include being involved as recovery team members, community advisors to the recovery team (minimum of two Elders or Culture Keepers from the local Mi’kmaq community), and sharing of Mi’kmaw knowledge relating to ribbonsnakes or its critical habitat. It will also include participation in traditional ceremonies and active management for ribbonsnakes.

Supporting Mi’kmaw cultural events that celebrate the ribbonsnake will increase public awareness and help overcome the negative perception of snakes. Combining traditional approaches with conventional research will encourage a greater understanding of ribbonsnakes and develop cooperative approaches to recovery.

1.3 Continue to develop volunteer opportunities and promote public involvement in research and recovery.
Encouraging volunteers to participate directly in meaningful research and recovery activities helps to create snake advocates and allows for the implementation of cost-effective recovery programs. By developing standard protocols, training participants, and implementing error checking procedures, both volunteers and researchers can collect high quality, useful data. This is particularly helpful with species such as the ribbonsnake where knowledge is poor and research is very labour intensive.

1.4 Work with landowners, Aboriginal organizations, industry, recreational groups, and developers to minimize impact on snakes and their habitats.
A best practices guide will be distributed to landowners in ribbonsnake critical habitat. The purpose of this manual is to inform landowners about wetland species at risk, alleviate fears surrounding critical habitat identification, and provide useful information on how to minimize the impact of activities on ribbonsnakes and their habitats. One-on-one landowner contact and site visits will complement the guide. Landowners will be encouraged to implement these best practices on their properties.