Feasibility of Recovering the Ojibway Prairie Population: Executive Summary

The Ojibway Prairie population of eastern massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus) in Windsor-LaSalle Ontario is an ecologically and genetically unique entity, making it important to the conservation of this species (and biodiversity more generally) in Canada. Ongoing field work, coupled with previous population modeling, strongly suggests this population is not viable and is in immediate threat of extinction without intensive active management. As a result, the eastern massasauga Rattlesnake Recovery Team has identified the need to assess the feasibility of developing a long-term repatriation program for recovery of this population. In response to this need, we assessed the ecological and socioeconomic feasibility of recovering the Ojibway Prairie population of eastern massasauga.

Our assessment suggests, among others, that 1) causes of decline are known or presumed, 2) the study landscape could theoretically support a population large enough to be viable in the long term, 3) source populations for repatriation are available, and 4) experimentation with repatriation and head-starting techniques is a priority for recovery of this species across its range. Several challenges to recovery were identified, including: 1) key threat reduction and restoration needs remain outstanding, 2) Windsor-LaSalle currently has a low Community-Capacity for species reintroductions, highlighting the need for capacity development, and 3) Windsor-LaSalle does not appear to be fully prepared to properly manage human-snake conflict or snakebite.

Techniques are available to mitigate many of the ecological and socioeconomic constraints to recovery and appropriate levels of legal, logistical and financial support appear to be accessible.

We conclude that a number of key actions will be required in order to sufficiently increase the ecological and socioeconomic feasibility of recovering the Ojibway Prairie population of eastern massasauga, including: 1) Protect and/or acquire unprotected habitat, 2) Develop and implement a coordinated vegetation management strategy, 3) Design and build habitat corridors, 4) Mitigate reptile road mortality 5) Mitigate human-snake conflict, and 6) Develop a heightened public health and education campaign. Finally, the clear need for advancements in the science of species recovery would make the Ojibway Prairie population a great candidate for experimentation with long-term repatriation techniques.