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Conservation Through Education

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Conservation Connection- Important Amphibian and Reptile Areas

Another of the series I was writing for the OHS news about reptile conservation efforts.

In this edition of Conservation Connection, I will introduce the new Important Amphibian and Reptile Area (IMPARA) program developed by the Canadian Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Network (CARCN). CARCN, for those who are unfamiliar with it, is an organization representing “the biologists who study, protect, and educate people and amphibians and reptiles”. It grew out of the Declining Amphibians Population Task Force, and although it mostly represents academic researchers, membership is open to all. The goal of the IMPARAs program is to identify sites that are significant to herptiles in Canada. Although designated sites receive no legal protection, it is hoped that the designation will have some effect on decisions made by policy makers and planners.

Nominations of sites can be made by anyone. Some biological information will be necessary for the nomination. Theoretically, the more detailed the data, the stronger the case, though it may not always work out that way. Nominated sites must have defined geographical boundaries, either natural or artificial. Therefore you cannot nominate the Carolinian Zone, but you could nominate Essex County, or Beausoleil Island, or even your own farm (although sites must also be large enough to support self-sustaining populations).

There are several criteria used to evaluate sites. These are:
(a) whether a site supports a significant number of individuals of a species of conservation concern (i.e., designated as Vulnerable, Threatened or Endangered at any level of government);
(b) whether a site supports a high species diversity (i.e., a site normally is home to a large proportion of the herpetofauna present in the region); and
(c) important life history requirements (i.e., hibernacula, nesting sites, etc.).

A “significant” number is suggested to mean one or more of the following:
(a) the site holds greater than or equal to 1% of a species’s Canadian population;
(b) the site is one of 50 or fewer sites, or is one of the 50 most important sites supporting the Canadian population of a species; or
(c) a species has been reliably documented as being present at the site (for some species, so little is known about the population status that this may be enough).

Nominations are evaluated by a CARCN panel, which assesses the case for the site against the criteria. Landowners and other parties are informed and given the opportunity to present any further information (either for or against), prior to the site being approved as an IMPARA. Further detail about the IMPARA program may be found at the CARCN web site.

So far, the only Ontario site nominated is Pelee Island, which features the only remaining Canadian population of blue racers (Coluber constrictor foxii), the largest population of Lake Erie water snakes (Nerodia sipedon insularum), a significant population of eastern fox snakes (Elaphe gloydi), and some unusual eastern garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) morphs (notably melanism). Blanding’s turtles (Emydoidea blandingii) are present, and there are occasional sightings of eastern spiny softshell turtles (Apalone spinifera spinifera) and spotted turtles (Clemmys guttata). Pelee Island is also the last known Canadian location for the now-extirpated Blanchard’s cricket frog (Acris crepitans blanchardi). Black rat snakes (Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta), eastern milk snakes (Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum), eastern hognose snakes (Heterodon platirhinos), eastern massasaugas (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus), and timber rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus) have all been extirpated from the island.

You may remember from the last issue that I was trying to organize a trip down to Pelee Island in June to do some volunteer work at the new Pelee Island Centre for Conservation, and to spend some time herping in the field with director Ben Porchuk. The few of us who went had a great time, and saw all five snake species on the island (the blue racers were definitely the highlight), four turtle species, a few frogs and many newts. I am planning another trip for the fall, for the weekend of October 21-22. If you are interested in participating, please let me know. Hopefully the turnout will be a little better.

Once again, I am calling on our members to donate money to help with some of the herpetofaunal species recovery programs here in Ontario. All of these programs have worthy goals, and are constrained by budget limitations. I challenge all of our members to donate 1% of their annual feeding costs to this cause. Think about it: if you can afford $100 to feed your captive herps, can’t you afford $1 to help conserve herps in the wild? The OHS will pool donations so that together, we can have a significant impact. If you would like to be a part of the OHS conservation committee, or have any questions concerning the conservation of Ontario’s native herpetofauna, e-mail me at jeff@scisnake.com or send a letter to my attention at the OHS mailbox.

Posted by Jeff Hathaway at 9:33 PM | Comments (1)  

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