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Tag Archive | "Endangered Species Act"

Michigan rattlesnake listed as threatened 


Eastern massasauga rattlesnake. Photos by: Dan Kennedy

Eastern massasauga rattlesnake. Photos by: Dan Kennedy

Eastern massasauga rattlesnake. Photos by: Dan Kennedy

Eastern massasauga rattlesnake. Photos by: Dan Kennedy

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced last week that it has listed the eastern massasauga rattlesnake as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act, stating that nearly 40 percent of the snake’s historical populations are now extirpated (no longer exist) and an additional 15 percent is of uncertain status.

The final rule listing the eastern massasauga appears in the Sept. 30, 2016, Federal Register and has an effective date of Oct. 31, 2016.

Under the Endangered Species Act, threatened species are considered plants and animals that may become endangered in the foreseeable future. Across the eastern massasauga rattlesnake’s range, nearly 40 percent of the species’ population has declined. Habitat loss is considered the primary threat driving the snakes’ decline; however, as their numbers decline, other threats such as direct mortality or collection play a more significant role.

Eastern massasaugas currently are found in scattered locations in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ontario, Canada. In Michigan, the eastern massasauga (the state’s only venomous snake) currently is state-listed as a species of special concern, but will be protected under Michigan’s Endangered Species Protection law once it is federally listed.

Most massasaugas are located within the southern portion of Michigan, with none occurring on the Upper Peninsula’s mainland.

“Conservation of this rare snake is critical because it plays an important role as a predator of small mammals,” said Dan Kennedy, Michigan Department of Natural Resources endangered species specialist. “The DNR is currently working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and many other partners to develop a reasonable approach to conserve this rare snake in Michigan.”

These snakes live in wet prairies, marshes and low-lying areas along rivers and lakes, and may also live in uplands during part of the year. They often hibernate in crayfish burrows, but they also may be found under logs and tree roots or in small mammal burrows.

Those who live in areas with massasaugas can take steps to keep the snakes away from their yard, such as keeping their grass cut short and removing structures like leaf and brush piles, dead logs and stacks of firewood that snakes or their prey (primarily small rodents) might use.

Kennedy emphasized that “human safety comes first, and the federal Endangered Species Act allows anyone to take action to protect yourself or others if you feel threatened.”

The massasauga is a small snake with a thick body, heart-shaped head and vertical pupils. The average length of an adult is about 2 feet. The snake’s tail has several dark brown rings and is tipped by gray-yellow rattles. They eat small rodents such as mice and voles, and will sometimes eat frogs and other snakes. They are docile, secretive snakes that will try to escape rather than defend themselves or fight. For more information on this snake and many others, see the “60-Second Snakes” video series on the DNR’s YouTube channel atwww.youtube.com/michigandnr.

For more information about the eastern massasauga and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s final rule to list the snake under the Endangered Species Act, visitwww.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/reptiles/eama.

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Wolves in Ecosystems Part 3


The gray wolf. Photo from the Encyclopedia Britannica online (Britannica.com)

The gray wolf. Photo from the Encyclopedia Britannica online (Britannica.com)

In wilderness ecological functions can maintain natural processes with limited human influence. Human activity in non-wilderness areas results in significant disruptions. Society does not maintain many large intact wilderness areas but those that do exist allow species to go about their business. Such areas allow scientists to study ecological nature niches to learn how ecosystems function. George Monbiot wrote about the role of wolves driving trophic cascades that cause changes from top carnivores down. I outlined in part 2 of my series how hares caused plants to die to the ground causing hares to starve and that in turn caused top predators to starve.

No one species drives all major events in ecosystems but individual species do drive major changes. Overriding physical influences such as global climatic change and pollution have impacts making it difficult to determine how even “pristine” environments function unhampered. It is an over simplification to attribute credit or blame to a single species. The hypothesis about how trophic cascading works in nature is a self-correcting study in progress.

After writing parts 1 & 2 about social, political, and ecological aspects of wolves in ecosystems, L. David Mech, a world-renowned wolf researcher wrote me regarding trophic cascades and human views towards wolves. Dave has conducted wolf research on Isle Royale and has been involved in biological and social aspects of wolf study across the continent since 1958. My articles were reasonably accurate. There are aspects that could use clarification. It is an enormous challenge to adequately discuss a topic in short space. George Monbiot’s description has validity and supportable evidence but L. David Mech and I think other variables influence how much wolves direct trophic cascading. Evidence-based scientific studies will help self-correct current knowledge.

Key points from the previous articles were that some people want wolves protected, others want them exterminated, while others want them managed to protect livestock, pets, and wildlife populations while allowing wolves to thrive. The November ballot options were both defeated. One ballot proposal would have allowed a small politically appointed group to make decisions regarding hunting. The other would have created a wolf-hunting season managed by DNR wildlife biologists. The current practice to manage wolves on an individual basis when and if a problem develops will continue. That is social/political aspect.

The greatest numbers of votes were probably cast on emotion rather than science supported data. Most people do not have the time or inclination to read scientific studies before decision-making.

Scientific research gathers data to draw conclusions. It is the nature of science to challenge all studies and look for weakness in study design and conclusions. Through the process, studies are repeated to verify data accuracy and to correct errors. Science is self-correcting and is constantly refined toward making accurate conclusions.

Our instant satisfaction society wants definitive answers and conclusions immediately. Such conclusions are often applied to all situations instead of being applied to specific circumstances. Historically wolves were hated (emotional) and extirpated from most of the United States. The Endangered Species Act allowed recovery in some regions including Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where biological recovery has been achieved. The species was delisted in recovery areas but most of the continent’s historic wolf range remains without wolves. That is the scientific aspect.

Studies regarding wolves as the driving force behind trophic cascades in ecosystems continues. Wolves do cause elk and deer to move and evidence indicates vegetative communities recovered where once stationary elk moved from degraded overbrowsed habitat. Other natural factors have influence. No one species is responsible for ecosystem changes.

In national forests, where human alterations are used for watershed management, timber harvest, cattle grazing, hunting, hiking, other recreation, and mining, there is greater impact on plant growth and associated animal species than is caused by wolves. Human activities dramatically alter non-wilderness areas. Though Yellowstone National Park is massive in size it is not adequately large to meet wolf needs. Wolf hunting is allowed outside the park in national forest. Management plans are working to largely exterminate wolves rather than manage a healthy population in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Even a radio collared research pack was killed when it entered the national forest. You can review part 2 of this series regarding trophic cascades by Googling Cedar Springs Post, click Outdoors, and click Nature Niche to read previous articles. You might want to read George Monbiot’s book, Feral: Rewilding the Land, Sea, and Human Life and Mech’s book, The Wolf: The Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433. 616-696-1753.

 

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