The 2019 season in 4 numbers
The Ojibway Prairie Reptile Recovery (OPRREC) team is back to work after a lovely, if too short, break. This pause in activity has brought a feeling of reflection to our team, so let’s take a look at some of the things that we have accomplished in the last year
As a team we conducted over 180 Eastern Massasauga mark-recapture surveys this spring and summer. And that’s just mark-recapture surveys! Many other survey types were conducted focused on Massasaugas and other species at risk snakes in the Ojibway Prairie Complex and Greater Park Ecosystem (OPCGPE). Completing so many surveys and only finding one Massasauga this year makes it clear that this population is at an all time low and needs more help than ever. You can watch our video about Prairie, our single 2019 Massasauga, here.
Over 980km were biked during road mortality surveys this field season. Though species at risk snakes are the focus of these surveys, all vertebrates are recorded when found dead on the road. This year, 937 vertebrates were recorded, including 54 species at risk. Road mortality is a serious problem in the Ojibway Prairie Complex and prompted our team to advocate for temporary road closures and permanent wildlife crossings in an effort to prevent additional reptile road mortality on some of the region’s deadliest roads for snakes.
One of our on-going projects is a hibernation habitat study to identify potential release sites for conservation translocations of Massasaugas. This winter 21 Eastern Gartersnakes are currently over-wintering in artificial hibernacula to help evaluate three potential release sites. These snakes are being monitored over-winter using a borescope and will help us to identify suitable habitat for hibernating snakes and eventual releases.
This year we installed and monitored over 260m of permanent snake barrier fencing in a residential neighborhood that is adjacent to Massasauga habitat. This fence will hopefully reduce negative human-snake interactions that could be harmful to both people and snakes. We used the woody debris generated during fence installation to make woody-debris features, which provide shelter for many local species of wildlife.
Another part of our team’s habitat enhancement efforts involves removing invasive species in the park complex and the utility right-of-way that links Massasauga habitat. This fall we began a large-scale control effort focusing on invasive Phragmites australis along this right-of-way. While this involves multiple control methods, the rolling phase has been completed, which was satisfying to watch.
The team that made it possible
Jennifer Barden was back as the lead Reptile Recovery Technician this year. She worked on the OPRREC project in 2018 and was excited to continue working with Massasaugas. She has lived in Southern Ontario for most of her life and has a passion for reptiles and amphibians that has led to many days mucking around in ponds and flipping logs. She has a B.Sc. in Zoology from the University of Guelph that has encouraged this love of wildlife, and for reptiles in particular. During school she has taken multiple labs and field courses focusing on herpetology and has always known that she wanted to work with animals in their natural environments. She moved to British Columbia after finishing school where she had the opportunity to work with Northern Pacific Rattlesnakes in Southern B.C. She is eager to continue working with Massasaugas and other species at risk in southern Ontario.
Joanne Gui was the Reptile Recovery Technician this year. Though she had done herpetofauna surveys in the past, this was her first job handling snakes in the field and she’s glad she got to work with lots of snakes this year. She has an M.EnvSc in Conservation and Biodiversity from the University of Toronto Scarborough and hopes to spend her career working towards conserving at-risk wildlife and habitats. She had an exciting introduction to conservation biology during a field course abroad 8 years ago and since then, has taken opportunities to study and work in different types of habitats from the Amazon rain forest and cloud forests in Honduras, to right-of-ways in Southern Ontario, and now the prairie in Essex County.