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Recovery Strategy for the Eastern Hog-nosed Snake (Heterodon platirhinos) in Canada (Proposed)

2. Recovery

2.1 Recovery Feasibility

Recovery of the Eastern Hog-nosed Snake is considered feasible for the following reasons:

  1. Individuals capable of reproduction remain present throughout the range in Canada.
  2. It is likely that sufficient habitat remains available for recovery, particularly in central Ontario.
  3. There are no unavoidable threats to the species or its habitat that preclude recovery and cannot be mitigated through recovery actions.
  4. Recovery techniques required are not highly experimental or known to be ineffective.

2.2 Recovery Goal

The goal of this recovery strategy is the long-term persistence of key Eastern Hog-nosed Snake populations throughout the existing range in Canada.

It is unclear how much the Eastern Hog-nosed Snake has declined across its range in Canada and this lack of knowledge hampers recovery planning. However, given the loss of Eastern Hog-nosed Snake habitat, particularly in southwestern Ontario, it is not likely that the distribution of the species can be significantly increased. The Eastern Hog-nosed Snake is also considered globally secure (G5), being widespread and relatively common in much of the eastern United States of America. Key populations will be identified following the general principles of ecological representation, redundancy, and resiliency (Stein et al. 2000). Conservation of peripheral populations is important to maintain evolutionary potential (Lesica and Allendorf 1995).

2.3 Recovery Objectives

Recovery actions should be integrated with complementary activities for other species at risk wherever possible. Actions undertaken should address the following objectives towards achieving the recovery goal:

  1. Inventory and Monitoring
    • Determine current distribution of the species and the number of protected areas with extant populations.
    • Implement a standardized monitoring protocol.
  2. Research
    • Fill knowledge gaps regarding habitat use, population biology and threats.
  3. Conservation & Management
    • Ensure conservation through land protection, land use planning, development of regulations, enforcement of existing regulations, and development of measures to mitigate identified threats.
  4. Critical Habitat
    • Define and map critical habitat and residence required to meet recovery goals for each of the Ontario population regions.
  5. Communication & Stewardship
    • Develop and deliver communication and education programs to increase awareness, land stewardship, and application of best management practices.

2.4 Approaches Recommended to Meet Recovery Objectives

2.4.1 Recovery planning

Strategies to effect recovery are outlined in Table 2.

Table 2. Recovery Planning Table
PriorityThreats addressedBroad strategy to address threatRecommended approaches to meet recovery objectives
Objective I : Inventory and Monitoring
Highn/aPublic reporting program
  • Develop, promote and implement a public reporting program to solicit observations
Highn/aProtected areas query
  • Solicit reports from staff
Highn/aHabitat monitoring protocol
  • Develop and implement a standardized method for classifying habitat used by Hog-nosed Snake (HOSN) (e.g. Ecological Land Classification system)
Highn/aPopulation surveys
  • Prioritized list of areas to survey
  • Develop and implement a standard population monitoring protocol
  • Surveys in conjunction with other appropriate SAR to determine continuing presence of HOSN
Mediumn/aLong-term monitoring
  • Develop standardized data sheet/spreadsheet for recording data
  • Continue and expand reporting of observations within protected areas
LowCollectingIllegal trade
  • Survey of dealers and stores to determine supply of and demand for HOSN
Objective II: Research
Highn/aPopulation studies
  • Intensive demographic studies at a few selected sites across the range to determine habitat use, home range and population density
  • Determine habitat use of juveniles
Highn/aPopulation modeling
  • Use basic life history data to estimate the effect of differing population sizes on probability of population survival
  • Determine which protected areas are large enough to adequately protect populations
Mediumn/aGenetic profiling
  • DNA samples should be collected from all snakes handled in any research program
  • Profiling of populations once sufficient sample sizes are available
  • Identification of population markers to aid in identifying origin of poached snakes
LowContaminantsEffects of contami-nants
  • Toxicological study of selected HOSN populations carried out in association with other research
Lown/aPredator-prey relationship
  • Research project to determine dependence upon toad populations and food preference of juveniles
Objective III: Conservation & Management
HighHabitat lossHabitat protection
  • Prioritize private sites for urgency and conservation importance
  • Identify and contact owners
  • Determine ideal protection strategy for each site
HighHabitat lossHabitat acquisition
  • Identify key areas where land purchase is essential for survival of HOSN
HighHabitat lossIdentify key populations
  • Develop guidelines and a spatially explicit model to identify habitat essential to long-term survival of HOSN
HighHabitat lossHabitat threat assessment
  • Assess specific threats facing major populations across range
HighHabitat lossPlanning documents
  • Develop and apply provincial habitat mapping guidelines for the purposes of the Provincial Policy Statement. Encourage adoption of policies by municipalities to protect significant habitat in Official Plans and other planning documents (e.g. protected areas, municipalities)
HighHabitat degradationManagement plans
  • Encourage protection and recovery of HOSN in management plans for all protected areas
  • Encourage regulation under the Ontario Endangered Species Act
HighHabitat loss and degradationRecovery Implementation Groups
  • Establish regional Recovery Implementation Groups (RIGs) for carrying out identified protection measures
Objective IV: Critical Habitat
HighHabitat lossDefine critical habitat
  • Create subcommittee to define critical habitat
  • Through implementation of the schedule of studies, produce guidelines for resource users to identify critical habitat for purposes of SARA
HighHabitat degradationIdentify activities that may destroy or harm critical habitat
  • Analysis of habitat use data to determine which land uses are compatible with HOSN
  • Identification of land uses that need testing to determine their compatibility with HOSN
  • Additional telemetry studies to determine land use compatibility (possibly combine with population studies)
Objective V. Communication & Stewardship
HighPersecutionCommunication Strategy
  • Develop and implement a communication strategy integrated with other snake SAR to ensure an efficient and coordinated approach to inform and engage the target audiences
  • Survey target audience to determine level of persecution
HighPersecution and CollectingInform wildlife enforcement staff
  • Develop & deliver workshops & materials for wildlife enforcement officers in conjunction with other Recovery Teams
HighHabitat loss and degradation and PersecutionStewardship guidelines
  • Develop and promote best management practices & land-use guidelines for landowners and municipal planners
HighALLPartnerships with First Nations
  • Identify key First Nations lands with major populations
  • Consult First Nations with respect to protection of populations on their lands
MediumTraffic mortalityRoad signs
  • Identify known sites within protected areas where traffic mortality occurs
  • Erect "Brake-for-snakes" signs where appropriate
MediumCollectingEducate pet industry
  • Develop and distribute information regarding the buying and selling of species at risk to the retail pet industry in Ontario


2.4.2 Narrative to Support Recovery Planning Table

Successful recovery should be implemented at the landscape scale, with emphasis placed on ensuring the protection of large enough areas to protect viable populations. Many recovery actions (particularly communication and education actions) should be integrated with other species at risk, particularly the Fowler's Toad, Eastern Foxsnake, Eastern Ratsnake, Milksnake and the Massasauga Rattlesnake, where appropriate.

2.5 Performance Measures

Significant data gaps exist in the information required for successful recovery of the Eastern Hog-nosed Snake. Activities in the next few years must focus on filling these data gaps. Performance measures to assess the team's success include:

  1. Inventory and Monitoring
    • Number or records submitted to the Natural Heritage Information Centre (NHIC)
    • Number of historical EOs re-surveyed to determine current status of the Hog-nosed Snake
    • Implementation of a standardized monitoring protocol
  2. Research
    • Additional intensive studies on Eastern Hog-nosed Snakes are undertaken to fill the knowledge gaps regarding habitat use, population biology and threats as outlined in Table 2
  3. Conservation & Management
    • Report outlining methodology for identifying key populations and key populations identified
    • Development of a prioritized list of candidate sites for protection
    • Prioritized list of areas for conservation based on threats
    • Habitat guidelines finalized and distributed to relevant agencies
    • Appropriate zoning and activities identified in all new or updated park management plans
  4. Critical Habitat
    • Critical habitat will be fully identified within 5 years of posting this recovery strategy
  5. Communication & Stewardship
    • Communication strategy is completed
    • Stewardship guidelines are produced and presented to target audience
    • Development of a prioritized list of First Nations lands with known populations
    • Development of a prioritized list of known sites with traffic mortality
    • Information package on species at risk developed and distributed to retail pet industry

2.6 Critical Habitat

2.6.1 Identification of the species' critical habitat

Critical habitat is the habitat necessary for the survival or recovery of a species. Identification of critical habitat is not possible at this stage due to insufficient information. The species has a large distribution in southern Ontario and is widely distributed throughout the eastern and mid-United States. Very little research has been conducted on the species, partly because it is fairly common in many areas of its extensive U.S. range. In addition, research is complicated by a low population density and the species' exceedingly cryptic and secretive behaviour. Observation data thus far indicates that the Eastern Hog-nosed Snake is a habitat generalist, as it is found in a variety of habitat types. A research project investigating ways of determining which habitat parcels should qualify as critical habitat in Ontario has begun, but requires much more work and is not expected to be completed until 2013, as outlined in the Schedule of Studies below. This would not preclude the option of protecting some habitat in the interim.

2.6.2 Examples of activities likely to result in destruction of critical habitat

Although critical habitat has not yet been defined for the Eastern Hog-nosed Snake, activities that can destroy habitat include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Road construction
  • Development (e.g. residential, industrial, recreational)
  • Conversion of land to agriculture
  • Removal of natural vegetation
  • Off-road vehicle use, particularly in nesting areas

2.6.3 Schedule of studies to identify critical habitat

Table 3. Schedule of Studies for the Identification of Critical Habitat
Description of ActivityOutcome/RationaleTimeline
Quality check all NHIC records
  • Improved confidence in existing locality information
  • Identification of potential areas to survey for the Eastern Hog-nosed Snake based on landscape factors
2006 (completed)
Work with government and non-government interest groups to better determine the past and current distribution
  • New records for the Eastern Hog-nosed snake submitted to NHIC
  • Better understanding of the complete distribution of the species in Ontario
Field surveys to determine extent of current range  (in collaboration with surveys for other species at risk)
  • Better understanding of the complete distribution of the species in Ontario
Norfolk county snake survey in conjunction with other snake species at risk
  • Detailed understanding of habitat use in the Norfolk sand plain
Radio telemetry study of at least one population in southwestern Ontario to determine movement patterns and habitat use
  • Determination of movement patterns, home range size and types of habitat used
Focused work including the mapping of suitable habitat in and around key population areas and then parsing those habitat blocks down into what is necessary for population persistence (viability)
  • Critical habitat fully defined

2.7 Existing and Recommended Approaches to Habitat Protection

Habitat for the Eastern Hog-nosed Snake on federal lands is subject to applicable federal legislation depending on where the federal lands are located. Examples of such federal legislation can include the Canada National Parks Act, the Canada Wildlife Act, the Historic Sites and Monuments Act, the Species at Risk Act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Federal Real Property and Immovables Act, applicable regulations under those acts, and the Historic Canal Regulations of the Department of Transport Act. Habitat for the species in provincial parks is subject to regulations under the Ontario's Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act. With respect to properties outside of the federally- and provincially-owned protected areas, Ontario's Endangered Species Act (2007) provides for species-specific regulations for the Eastern Hog-nosed Snake. Such lands are also subject to legislative protection of habitat through the Provincial Policy Statement of the Ontario Planning Act, and to protection of species under Ontario's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act. Habitat can also be protected under the provincial Aggregates Resources Act and the Crown Forest Sustainability Act.

2.8 Effects on Other Species

Public outreach programs should have positive implications for other snakes and species at risk. For example, the Georgian Bay Reptile Awareness Program promoted appreciation and protection of reptiles at risk in the Georgian Bay area. Other snake species at risk which likely benefited include the Eastern Foxsnake, Massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus), and Milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum). Actions to protect habitat will also likely benefit these species. In the Carolinian Region conservation and education initiatives will also likely benefit the Threatened Eastern Foxsnake and Eastern Ratsnake (Elaphe obsoleta). Given the fact that Eastern Hog-nosed Snakes are known predators of Fowler's Toads, a Threatened species, any action which leads to an increase in snake populations may lead to increased toad predation. Increased predation is not expected to significantly affect Fowler's Toad populations (Green pers. comm. 2004).

2.9 Recommended Approach for Recovery Implementation

The Eastern Hog-nosed Snake makes use of a variety of habitats and can occupy a large home range over the course of a single year. Hence the survival of this species relies upon maintaining a mosaic of habitats with the ability for movement to occur among these habitats. Therefore it is recommended that a landscape approach be used in implementing recovery for this species.

2.10 Statement on Action Plans

One or more action plans or similar planning documents will be developed to elaborate on the approaches recommended in the strategy. Recommendations for Eastern Hog-nosed Snake also may be incorporated into multi-species or ecosystem-based action plans where this is expected to be the most effective and efficient approach for implementation (e.g. habitat protection and landscape restoration). An action plan or similar planning document for Eastern Hog-nosed Snake recovery will be completed by December 2013.