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Management Plan for the Eastern Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus), Great Lakes population, in Canada [PROPOSED] – 2014
Species at Risk Act
Management Plan Series
Table of Contents
- Executive Summary
- 1. COSEWIC* Species Assessment Information
- 2. Species Status Information
- 3. Species Information
- 4. Threats
- 5 Management Objective
- 6. Broad Strategies and Conservation Measures
- 7. Measuring Progress
- 8. References
- Appendix A. Effects on the Environment and Other Species
- Appendix B. Sub-national conservation ranks of the Eastern Ribbonsnake in the United States
Management Plan for the Eastern Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus), Great Lakes population, in Canada [PROPOSED] – 2014
For copies of the management plan, or for additional information on species at risk, including the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) Status Reports, residence descriptions, action plans, and other related recovery documents, please visit the Species at Risk (SAR) Public Registry.
Cover illustration: © Gary Allen
Également disponible en français sous le titre
« Plan de gestion de la couleuvre mince (Thamnophis sauritus), population des Grands Lacs, au Canada [Proposition] »
© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of the Environment, 2014. All rights reserved.
Content (excluding the illustrations) may be used without permission, with appropriate credit to the source.
The federal, provincial, and territorial government signatories under the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk (1996) agreed to establish complementary legislation and programs that provide for effective protection of species at risk throughout Canada. Under the Species at Risk Act (S.C. 2002, c.29) (SARA), the federal competent ministers are responsible for the preparation of management plans for listed species of special concern and are required to report on progress five years after the publication of the final document on the SAR Public Registry.
The Minister of the Environment and the Minister responsible for the Parks Canada Agency are the competent ministers under SARA for the Eastern Ribbonsnake, Great Lakes population and have prepared this management plan as per section 65 of SARA. To the extent possible it has been prepared in cooperation with the Parks Canada Agency and with the Government of Ontario.
Success in the conservation of this species depends on the commitment and cooperation of many different constituencies that will be involved in implementing the directions set out in this plan and will not be achieved by Environment Canada or any other jurisdiction alone. All Canadians are invited to join in supporting and implementing this plan for the benefit of the Eastern Ribbonsnake, Great Lakes population, and Canadian society as a whole.
Implementation of this management plan is subject to appropriations, priorities, and budgetary constraints of the participating jurisdictions and organizations.
Earlier drafts of this management plan were prepared by David Seburn of Seburn Ecological Services. Input from Mike Oldham, Robert Craig and Nicole Tuyten, (Natural Heritage Information Centre, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources) on the status and distribution of the Eastern Ribbonsnake is greatly appreciated. Bob Farmer (Dalhousie University), Scott Gillingwater (Upper Thames River Conservation Authority), Tara Imlay (Wildlife Preservation Canada), Fred Schueler (Bishops Mills Natural History Centre) and Adam Wilson (Long Point World Biosphere Reserve) all graciously answered questions regarding their research and/or knowledge on the Eastern Ribbonsnake. Brad Steinberg of Algonquin Provincial Park (Ontario Parks) provided current information regarding ribbonsnakes in the Park and Brenda van Sleeuwen provided information on Nature Conservancy of Canada sites. Development of this management plan was facilitated by Angela McConnell, Christina Rohe, Lee Voisin, Madeline Austen, Lesley Dunn, and Elizabeth Rezek (Environment Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service – Ontario) along with Sylvain Giguere, Mark Dionne and Karine Picard (Environment Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service – Quebec). Contributions from Rhonda Donley, Susan Humphrey, Louis Gagnon and Tianna Burke (formerly with Environment Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service – Ontario) as well as assistance from conservation data centers and herpetofunal atlas projects are also greatly appreciated.
Acknowledgement and thanks is given to all other parties that provided advice and input used to help inform the development of this management plan including various Aboriginal organizations and individuals, individual citizens, and stakeholders who provided input and/or participated in consultation meetings.
The Eastern Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus), Great Lakes population, is listed as Special Concern on both Schedule 1 of the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) and under the Ontario Endangered Species Act 2007 (ESA 2007). The Eastern Ribbonsnake is a slender, striped snake, with a long tail that generally accounts for one-third of its total body length. It has an extensive range in eastern North America. In Canada, the species is separated into two populations. One population is limited to Ontario and a small area of Quebec (Great Lakes population), while the other is a disjunct population in Nova Scotia (Atlantic population). This document focuses on the management of the Great Lakes population.
The Eastern Ribbonsnake is a semi-aquatic snake, and is most commonly associated with wetlands, streams, rivers and adjacent upland habitat. Its primary food source is frogs, although salamanders and small fish are also preyed upon. Females likely mature in their second or third summer and produce five to twelve live young in each breeding year. Although it is largely unknown how frequently female ribbonsnakes reproduce, based on observations of related species in Canada it seems likely that they reproduce every second year.
Identified limiting factors include insufficient understanding of the species’ distribution and abundance, and threats to the species include habitat loss or degradation, road construction and associated mortality, persecution, reduced prey abundance and introduction of predatory fish.
The management objectives are: to conserve the Eastern Ribbonsnake (Great Lakes population) and the habitat where it is known to occur; to gain a sufficient understanding of the distribution and abundance of the Eastern Ribbonsnake (Great Lakes population) to better inform conservation efforts; and to mitigate known threats to this population in Canada. Broad strategies to help achieve these management objectives are outlined in Section 6.2 of this document.
A number of conservation measures to achieve the management objectives of this plan are proposed, none of which are expected to have any significant negative effect on the environment or other species.
1. COSEWICFootnote*Species Assessment Information
Date of Assessment : November 2012
- Common Name (population):
- Eastern Ribbonsnake, Great Lakes population
- Scientific Name:
- Eastern Ribbonsnake, Great Lakes population
- COSEWIC Status:
- Special Concern
- Reason for Designation:
- The Great Lakes population is relatively widespread and appears to be locally abundant in a few sites. However, quantitative data are lacking on population size and trends, and most information is anecdotal and from protected areas. Wetland and shoreline habitat loss and road development continue at an alarming rate within their range and present a significant threat to the species. Unless those losses are reversed the species is at risk of becoming Threatened. Road mortality and habitat loss are widespread and much of the species' distribution occurs in pockets of habitat surrounded by agricultural land, roads and shoreline development.
- Canadian Occurrence:
- Ontario, Quebec
- COSEWIC Status History:
- Designated Special Concern in May 2002. Status re examined and confirmed in November 2012.
- Footnote *
COSEWIC – Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada
Note: The Eastern Ribbonsnake was first observed in Quebec in 2003 (Desroches and Laparé 2004) and is now considered to be part of the Great Lakes population (COSEWIC 2012).
2. Species Status Information
The Eastern Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus) is endemicFootnote 1 to eastern North America where four subspecies are recognized throughout the range. Only one subspecies, the Northern Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus septentrionalis), is found in Canada (COSEWIC 2012). In this management plan, the subspecies occurring in Canada will simply be called Eastern Ribbonsnake, Great Lakes population, consistent with the common and scientific name in the COSEWIC assessment (COSEWIC 2012) and the current listing under Schedule 1 of the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA).
The rounded global rank of Eastern Ribbonsnake- Great Lakes Population (T. s. septentrionalis) is not yet ranked (TNR) (NatureServe 2013). In Canada, the Eastern Ribbonsnake - Great Lakes population is ranked as Nationally VulnerableFootnote 2 (N3) (NatureServe 2013). In Ontario, the subnational rank is Vulnerable (S3) (NatureServe 2013). In Quebec, the subnational rank for the Great Lakes population is Critically Imperilled Footnote 3 (S1) (NatureServe 2013).
The Eastern Ribbonsnake, Great Lakes population, is listed as Special ConcernFootnote 4 on Schedule 1 of the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). It is also listed as Special ConcernFootnote 5 in Ontario under the provincial Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA). In Quebec, the Eastern Ribbonsnake is likely to be designated threatened or vulnerable and is listed under Schedule 2Footnote 6 of the Act Respecting Threatened or Vulnerable Species.
The percentage of the global range of Eastern Ribbonsnake found in Canada is estimated to be less than 6.5%.
3. Species Information
3.1 Species Description
The Eastern Ribbonsnake is dark brown to black and may have a velvety appearance as a result of strongly keeledFootnote 7 scales (Smith 2002). There are three longitudinal yellow stripes that run along the length of its dark body: one on each side and one down the center of its back (mid-dorsal). Counting up from the snake’s belly, the yellow stripe on each side occurs on scale rows three and four (Smith 2002). There is a brown stripe that occurs on side scale rows one and two and distinguishes the yellow side strip from the ventral (belly) scales (Smith 2002). The unmarked belly is best described as pale green, yellow or white, while the chin and throat are white to fawn-coloured (Smith 2002). The Eastern Ribbonsnake has a ‘lizard-like’ head that is separated from the body by a distinct ‘neck’ (Smith 2002). The total length of the adult Eastern Ribbonsnake ranges between 46 cm and 86.2 cm, and the tail accounts for approximately one-third of its total length (Smith 2002).
The species is similar in appearance to the more common and widespread Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis) of Ontario and Quebec and the less common Threatened Butler’s Gartersnake (Thamnophis butleri) of southwestern Ontario. Distinguishing characteristics include: 1) ribbonsnakes have white preocular scales (a white crescent-like marking in front of their eyes); 2) the position of the side stripe on ribbonsnakes is higher (on scale rows three and four) than on other Canadian species of gartersnake, whose yellow longitudinal stripes are on scale rows two and three, except for the longitudinal stripes of Butler’s Gartersnake which extend to row four; 3) the tail in proportion to total body length is much longer on ribbonsnakes than gartersnakes (Hulse et al. 2001); and 4) ribbonsnakes are more slender than gartersnakes (Gilhen 1984; Ontario Nature 2012).
Courtship and mating generally take place in early spring, although fall mating may also occur (Harding 1997). In late July or August, gravid females (i.e., those with developing young) may move short distances away from water before giving birth to an average litter of 5 to 12 live young (Gilhen 1984; Harding 1997; Smith 2002). The young are generally 16 cm to 24 cm in total length, have the same colouration and pattern as their parents, and likely mature to adult size by their second or third summer (Harding 1997). A recent summary of the natural history, distribution and status of the snakes of Ontario, including the Eastern Ribbonsnake, is available in Rowell (2013).
3.2 Population and Distribution
Within North America, the Eastern Ribbonsnake (inclusive of all four subspecies) extends from Wisconsin east to southern Maine and Nova Scotia, and south discontinuously to southeastern Louisiana, the Gulf Coast and southern Florida (NatureServe 2013; Figure 1).
Long Description for Figure 1
Figure 1 shows the North American distribution of the Eastern Ribbonsnake and is divided into the following four subspecies: Blue-stripe; Common; Peninsula; and Northern (which is the only one found in Canada). The Northern subspecies distribution includes southern Ontario and neighbouring states and disjunct areas in Wisconsin, Maine and Nova Scotia. The Peninsula subspecies is located throughout Florida and southern Georgia. The Blue-stripe subspecies is located on the northern portion of the west coast of Florida. The Common subspecies is the widely distributed among the eastern states, from Louisiana northeast to New Hampshire, although the range is not continuous.
In Canada, the species occurs in two widely disjunct geographic regions and the populations are listed under Schedule 1 of SARA separately: Eastern Ribbonsnake, Great Lakes population, occurs in southern Ontario and QuebecFootnote 8, and the Eastern Ribbonsnake - Atlantic population occurs in Nova Scotia. This management plan is specific to the Eastern Ribbonsnake - Great Lakes population.
The Great Lakes population extends from southwestern Ontario east to the Ottawa River, with just six sightings reported north of the Ottawa River in Quebec. Observations are largely concentrated along the southern edge of the Canadian Shield, with the most frequent sightings occurring in the Georgian Bay region, particularly Bruce County (Smith 2002) (Figure 2). In Quebec, three snakes were observed in 2003 in Pontiac County, Outaouais region; these sightings represented the first three records of the species for this province (Desroches and Laparé 2004). In 2004, three snakes were found in the same area, and one on Île-du-Grand-Calumet, about 30 km to the northwest (Desroches and Laparé 2004; Figure 3).
Long Description for Figure 2
Figure 2 shows Ontario sightings of the Eastern Ribbonsnake. Sightings are categorized as recent sightings (1994 to present) and historical sightings (before 1994). Sightings are scattered throughout southern Ontario with a number of observations on the Bruce Peninsula, along the north shore of Lake Erie, and a swath from Georgian Bay eastward to the Kingston area.
Long Description for Figure 3
Figure 3 shows observations of Eastern Ribbonsnake in Quebec. There are two areas noted along the Ottawa River, upstream of Ottawa/Gatineau.
Abundance information and population trends are unknown for the Great Lakes population. Also, given the high degree of similarity to gartersnakes (which are not at risk) misidentification of ribbonsnakes as gartersnakes may lead to those snakes being unreported because they are not at risk and considered common. Many ribbonsnake sightings submitted by non-professionals may be unreliable (Smith 2002). In Ontario and Quebec, however, the Natural Heritage Information Centre (NHIC) checks the validity of reported sightings and has identified and confirmed 273 element occurrencesFootnote 9. Many of these occurrences are now considered historicalFootnote 10 (NHIC 2012).
3.3. Needs of the Eastern Ribbonsnake, Great Lakes population
The Eastern Ribbonsnake is semi-aquatic and often found in areas with permanent water and adjacent terrestrial habitat (Harding 1997). During the active season (April through October), these aquatic habitats include open water habitats such as ponds or lakes, wetlands (e.g., marshes, fens, swamps, or bogs), or the flowing water of streams or rivers (Ernst and Barbour 1989; Harding 1997, Hulse et al. 2001). A study conducted in 1995 reported that 93% of Eastern Ribbonsnakes found in eastern Ontario were associated with aquatic habitats (Scribner and Weatherhead 1995), most commonly with habitats having shallow water and low, dense shoreline vegetation (Minton, 1972; COSEWIC 2002). In Quebec, Eastern Ribbonsnakes were also observed near wetlands on bare substrate such as gravel, cobble and boulders (Desroches and Leparé 2004). The adjacent terrestrial habitat generally includes open, sunny areas, especially where there are clumps of grasses or sedges and some low shrubbery (Harding 1997; Imlay 2009). Adjacent habitat can also include rocky hillsides and deciduous forests (Hulse et al. 2001). For example, in the vicinity of Hamilton, Ontario, Eastern Ribbonsnakes were often associated with areas of high forest cover and large swamps (Lamond 1994).
Like other reptiles, Eastern Ribbonsnakes are ectothermicFootnote 11 and must rely on their surroundings in order to keep their body temperature at the preferred 20oC to 30oC range (Smith 2002). To help raise their body temperature, Eastern Ribbonsnakes will bask on emergent logs and hummocks or along shoreline habitat that is directly adjacent to the water. Ribbonsnakes will also climb onto low shrubs to bask in the sun (Harding 1997) and have been observed in bushes up to 2 metres off the ground (Carpenter 1952). Conversely, to lower body temperature and avoid overheating, the snakes may take refuge in cool water or under debris (e.g., rocks, logs) (Smith 2002).
Eastern Ribbonsnakes are primarily diurnalFootnote 12, but may forage for food at night during the frog breeding season (Smith 2002). Amphibians, particularly frogs, are their primary food source (Carpenter 1952; Brown 1979; COSEWIC 2012). Eastern Ribbonsnakes likely target the younger, more abundant age classes of species such as the Northern Leopard Frog (Lithobates pipiens), Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer), Green Frog (Lithobates clamitans), and American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus) (Brown 1979). Additional prey generally includes salamanders (Brown 1979), minnows and other small fish (Bell et al. 2007). Known predators of ribbonsnake include herons, hawks, Mink (Mustela vison), Raccoons (Procyon lotor), domestic pets, and predatory exoticFootnote 13 fish (Harding 1997; Smith 2002).
In the fall, Eastern Ribbonsnakes move to their hibernaculaFootnote 14, where they will hibernate underground either singly or in small groups (Carpenter 1953). Documented locations include ant mounds, vole tunnels (Carpenter 1953), and under a gravel path (Bell et al. 2007). Observations of ribbonsnakes in early spring and late fall suggest that they may also hibernate underground in areas of fractured slate, although this has not been confirmed (Todd 2007). Hibernation sites may be close to the water table, allowing snakes to partially submerge during overwintering (Todd 2007) and preventing both freezing and dehydration.
In Nova Scotia, Eastern Ribbonsnake, Atlantic population, individuals were found up to 400 m from wetlands during early spring and fall, and home ranges of adults varied from 1,790 ha and 7,784 ha (Imlay 2009). A population density of up to 40 adult snakes per hectare was estimated for one sub-population in Nova Scotia (Todd 2007). If this estimate is reliable and typical of abundant sub-populations, then it is possible that Eastern Ribbonsnakes are a significant component of some ecosystems. Currently, there are no available studies on the home range of individuals from the Eastern Ribbonsnake, Great Lakes population, in Ontario or Quebec.
3.4 Limiting Factors
As with all northern reptiles, temperature limits the Eastern Ribbonsnakes’ distribution (COSEWIC 2012). Other limitations may be the relatively small clutch sizes ribbonsnakes have when compared to closely related and more successful species such as gartersnakes. Lastly, ribbonsnakes may be limited by their primary food source; amphibian populations are in decline and this may have serious consequences for ribbonsnake populations (Environmental Commissioner of Ontario 2009).
4.1 Threat AssessmentFootnote 15
|Threat||Level of Concern Footnotea||Extent||Occurrence||Frequency||Severity Footnoteb||Causal Certainty Footnote c|
|Habitat Loss or Degradation|
|Loss or degradation of wetland habitat, through development and agricultural land use||High||Widespread||Current||Continuous||High||High|
|Loss or degradation of riparian and upland vegetation, through agricultural land use and shoreline development and hardening||High||Widespread||Current||Continuous||Unknown||Unknown|
|Road construction and associated road mortality||Medium-High||Widespread||Current||Seasonal (Spring – Fall)||High||Medium|
|Disturbance or Harm|
|Persecution||Low-Medium||Unknown||Unknown||Seasonal (Spring – Fall)||Unknown||Medium|
|Changes in Ecological Dynamics|
|Reduced prey abundance||Medm||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown||Medium||Low|
|Invasive or Introduced Species/Genome|
|Introduction of predatory fish that reduce prey populations||Low||Unknown||Current/ Anticipated||Unknown||Unknown||Low|
- Footnote a
Level of Concern: signifies that managing the threat is of (high, medium or low) concern for the conservation of the species, consistent with the management objectives. This criterion considers the assessment of all the information in the table.
- Footnote b
Severity: reflects the population-level effect (High: very large population-level effect, Moderate, Low, Unknown).
- Footnote c
Causal certainty: reflects the degree of evidence that is known for the threat (High: available evidence strongly links the threat to stresses on population viability, Medium: there is a correlation between the threat and population viability e.g. expert opinion; Low: the threat is assumed or plausible).
4.2 Description of Threats
Loss or degradation of wetland habitat through development and agricultural land use
Loss of habitat or degradation of habitat quality significantly threatens both the Eastern Ribbonsnake, Great Lakes population, and its prey (COSEWIC 2012). By 2002, the wetland area in southern Ontario was estimated to have been reduced by 72% of the total pre-settlement levels due to human alterations (Ducks Unlimited Canada 2010) such as infilling of wetlands for development or agricultural land. Human alterations adjacent to aquatic habitat could also result in increased distances and/or barriers to snake movement between wetlands or between hibernacula sites. These alterations also increase the risk of interactions with people and domestic pets in addition to increasing the potential for road mortality. Human alterations have the potential to affect the hydrology of the area causing changes to water levels and seasonal water flow. This is of particular concern as it can change the suitability of the vegetation structure for the Eastern Ribbonsnake. Eastern Ribbonsnakes occupy and depend on the availability and quality of wetland habitats. A lack of sufficient data prevents any quantitative assessment of this factor as a threat to the population. Since ribbonsnakes depend on the availability of aquatic habitats, the loss or degradation of shoreline and wetland habitat will inevitably result in population decline and even local extirpation, depending on the magnitude of habitat loss. For example, ribbonsnakes are now rare in southwestern Ontario, where wetland and shoreline destruction has been extensive (Joe Crowley pers. comm. 2014). Conversely, this species remains relatively common in areas such as the Bruce Peninsula, eastern Georgian Bay and the Frontenac Arch where wetlands and shorelines largely remain in a natural state (Joe Crowley pers. comm. 2014).
Loss or degradation of riparian and upland vegetation through agricultural land use and shoreline development and hardening
The preferred habitat of the Eastern Ribbonsnake is a mosaic of permanent water, riparian vegetation and adjacent terrestrial habitat. The loss or degradation of the riparian or terrestrial vegetation increases predation risk by reducing available cover, reduces the availability of suitable sites for thermoregulation, and likely reduces prey abundance and availability (Bell et al. 2007).
Road construction and associated road mortality
Most of Ontario’s reptile and amphibian diversity occurs in southern Ontario, where road density is among the highest in Canada (Ontario Nature 2012). Habitat fragmented by roadways often results in reptile and amphibian species either using the road side itself (e.g., as a thermoregulation site or nesting site) or crossing the road to make use of the habitat on the other side (e.g., foraging, breeding, nesting and overwintering) (Ashley and Robinson 1996). The Eastern Ribbonsnake has been frequently observed on roadways, especially where roadways are bisecting shorelines or wetland habitat (COSEWIC 2012).
As an example, in 1990, a total of 24 Eastern Ribbonsnakes were found dead on roads in and around Bruce Peninsula National Park (Schueler pers. comm. 2009) and on a single day in April 2008, twelve Ribbonsnakes were found dead along a road near Cambridge (Gillingwater pers. comm. 2009). In the fall of 2001, over 200 snakes were found dead on roads within Rondeau Provincial Park, 50 of which were Eastern Ribbonsnakes (Smith 2002; Gillingwater pers. comm. 2009). Although considered to be a sizable mortality event, the road mortality at Rondeau Provincial Park was not an isolated incident, as an additional 42 Eastern Ribbonsnakes were found dead on the Park’s roads in 2005. Over half of these snakes were found during the late summer and fall months, suggesting the snakes were migrating to hibernation sites (Farmer 2007).
Although it is unclear how significant a threat human persecutionFootnote 16 is to the Eastern Ribbonsnake, discriminate killing can be a significant source of mortality for some snake species. An Ontario study found that a small percentage (2.7%) of drivers will intentionally run over amphibians and reptiles on the road (Ashley et al. 2007).
Reduced prey abundance
Eastern Ribbonsnakes feed primarily on amphibians, particularly frogs. Growing concern over global amphibian (e.g., frogs, toads, newts and salamanders) declines has led to the suggestion that a decreasing amphibian population could pose a threat (i.e., reduced prey availability and abundance) to the Eastern Ribbonsnake (Lesbarreres et al. 2014, Harding 1997, Smith 2002). In Ontario, amphibian declines over the last several decades have been observed for the following species: Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer), Jefferson Salamander (Ambystoma jeffersonianum), Pickerel Frog (Lithobates palustris), Northern Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans), American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus) and the Northern Leopard Frog (Lithobates pipiens) (Environmental Commissioner of Ontario 2009).
Introduction of predatory fish that reduce prey populations
The introduction of predatory fish into areas where ribbonsnakes are known to occur is a concern. The introduction of species such as Smallmouth Bass has resulted in large range expansions into Eastern Ribbonsnake habitat. Although Smallmouth Bass are native to Ontario, bass stocking by the Ontario Department of Game and Fisheries introduced a large number of Smallmouth Bass outside of their historic range. Although bass stocking is no longer practiced by the Ontario government, the Smallmouth Bass’ range has increased and it is now considered introduced in at least one-third of the lakes in which it is found, with a range extending into Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick (Funnell 2012). Predatory fish can negatively impact Eastern Ribbonsnake populations through predation or competition. These fish have been known to dramatically reduce populations of small fish and negatively affect the abundance of the Eastern Ribbonsnake’s main diet, amphibians (Vander Zanden et al. 2004). Exotic species that were introduced elsewhere in the country, such as Chain Pickerel, are expanding into Ontario and are expected to further impact the Eastern Ribbonsnake’s prey (Hoyle & Lake 2011; COSEWIC 2012).
5. Management Objective
The management objectives are: to conserve the Eastern Ribbonsnake (Great Lakes population) and the habitat where it is known to occur; to gain a sufficient understanding of the distribution and abundance of the Eastern Ribbonsnake (Great Lakes population) to better inform conservation efforts; and to mitigate known threats to this population in Canada.
In Ontario, the Eastern Ribbonsnake occurs throughout much of the southern part of the province, with the majority of observations occurring in the Georgian Bay region. However, throughout the rest of the species’ range, including Quebec, there remains a lack of knowledge regarding locational information for this species. By gaining further knowledge of the Eastern Ribbonsnake’s overall distribution, abundance and hibernation sites, conservation efforts for this species can be better targeted.
6. Broad Strategies and Conservation Measures
6.1. Actions Already Completed or Currently Underway
A number of stewardship, management and monitoring activities targeting the Eastern Ribbonsnake have been completed or are currently in development. Many of these projects have been made possible through funding from Canada’s Habitat Stewardship Program (HSP) (Environment Canada unpublished data) and other sources, including the provincial governments of Ontario and Quebec. The following are projects that are particularly pertinent to the conservation and management for the Eastern Ribbonsnake, Great Lakes population, and its habitat:
Loss or degradation of wetland habitat
Road construction and associated mortality
Lack of abundance and distribution knowledge:
Protection of Hibernacula during forest operations:
For more information about these or other projects that have received federal funding, please visit Environment Canada's web page.
Other Environment Canada programs or partnerships have contributed to wetland habitat conservation throughout Ontario, particularly in southern Ontario/Great Lakes region. For more information, please visit Environment Canada's web page.
6.2. Broad Strategies
The broad strategies to manage the Eastern Ribbonsnake, Great Lakes population, in Canada are as follows:
- Determine the current distribution and abundance of the Eastern Ribbonsnake, Great Lakes population, in Canada;
- Monitor changes in distribution and abundance;
- Support stewardship activities and outreach programs aimed at mitigating threats and conserving suitable habitat;
- Fill knowledge gaps that benefit the species' conservation.
6.3. Conservation Measures
The conservation measures and implementation schedule proposed to meet the broad strategies outlined in section 6.2 are presented in Table 2.
|Conservation Measure||Priority Footnote17||Threats or Concerns Addressed||Timeline|
|1. Determine the current distribution and abundance of the Eastern Ribbonsnake, Great Lakes population|
|1.1 Develop efficient and effective methods to determine the current distribution and abundance of the Eastern Ribbonsnake, Great Lakes population, along with habitat mapping.||High||Insufficient understanding of population distribution and abundance||2014-2019|
|1.2 Work with government and non-government partners to implement the methods identified in 1.1 at both known and historic Eastern Ribbonsnake sites and suitable habitats near those sites||High||Habitat loss or degradation;|
Insufficient understanding of population distribution and abundance
|2. Monitor for trends in distribution and abundance|
|2.1 At select sites distributed throughout the species' range, work with government and non-government partners to monitor changes in distribution and relative abundance.||High||Insufficient understanding of population trends||2014 - Ongoing|
|2.2 Encourage the ongoing submission of incidental sightings.||High||Insufficient understanding of population distribution and abundance||Ongoing|
|3. Support stewardship activities that mitigate threats and conserve suitable habitat for the species|
|3.1 Conduct projects to identify high-risk areas for road mortality and mitigate mortality of Eastern Ribbonsnakes and their amphibian prey wherever possible (e.g., installation of wildlife fencing and ecopassages or culverts).||Medium-High||Road construction and associated mortality||Ongoing|
|3.2 Encourage outreach programs including social marketing campaigns, that educate the public about the ecological importance of snakes and promote the conservation of the Eastern Ribbonsnake and its habitat.||Medium||Loss or degradation of wetland habitat; Loss or degradation of riparian and upland vegetation; Persecution; Knowledge gaps on abundance and distribution||Ongoing|
|3.3 Encourage forest best management practices that promote healthy beaver populations, which in turn create wetland habitat for Eastern Ribbonsake.||Medium||Loss or degradation of wetland habitat; Loss or degradation of riparian and upland vegetation||2014-2019|
|3.4 Promote habitat stewardship and protection.||High||Loss or degradation of wetland habitat; Loss or degradation of riparian and upland vegetation||2014-2019|
|3.5 Develop and implement best management practices and land-use guidelines for ribbonsnakes||High||Loss or degradation of riparian and upland vegetation||2014-2019|
|3.6 Conserve and restore wetland and riparian habitat where the species occurs and the corridors between natural areas, where feasible and necessary.||High||Loss or degradation of wetland habitat; Loss or degradation of riparian and upland vegetation||2014-2019|
|4. Fill knowledge gaps that benefit the species conservation|
|4.1 Encourage the transfer and archiving of Traditional Ecological Knowledge of the Eastern Ribbonsnake.||Medium||Knowledge gap||Ongoing|
|4.2 Examine the population-level effect of road mortality on Eastern Ribbonsnakes.||Medium||Road construction and associated mortality||2014-2019|
|4.3 Determine the predator / prey dynamics for Eastern Ribbonsnake, and how global amphibian declines may be negatively affecting this population.||Low||Reduced prey abundance||2014-2019|
|4.4 Encourage genetic research on the Eastern Ribbonsnake. Studies include comparison of the Common Ribbonsnake and Eastern Ribbonsnake-Great Lakes population subspecies to determine if they could be considered a single designatable unit.||Low||Knowledge Gap||2014-2019|
|4.5 Conduct research to investigate habitat use, movement, hibernation, reproduction, ecology and the effects of riparian/shoreline modification on the abundance of the Great Lakes Population of Eastern Ribbonsnakes||Low||Knowledge Gap||2014-2019|
7. Measuring Progress
Every five years, success of the implementation of this management plan will be measured against the following performance indicators:
- The Great Lakes population of the Eastern Ribbonsnake and the habitat where it is currently known to occur have been conserved;
- The abundance and distribution of the Eastern Ribbonsnake, Great Lakes population, has been better documented;
- Conservation measures to mitigate road mortality have been implemented at one or more of the key areas in the Great Lakes population of the Eastern Ribbonsnake's range;
- Conservation measures to avoid or minimize the persecution of snakes have been implemented and there is more public support for conservation measures (e.g. increased knowledge of snakes and an improved attitude towards them; an increase in public support for the conservation of wetland habitat) in key areas of the Eastern Ribbonsnake's range.
Appendix A: Effects on the Environment and Other Species
A strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is conducted on all SARA recovery planning documents, in accordance with the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals. The purpose of a SEA is to incorporate environmental considerations into the development of public policies, plans, and program proposals to support environmentally sound decision-making and to evaluate whether the outcomes of a recovery planning document could affect any component of the environment or achievement of any of the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy’sFootnote 18 (FSDS) goals and targets.
Management planning is intended to benefit species at risk and biodiversity in general. However, it is recognized that implementation of management plans may inadvertently lead to environmental effects beyond the intended benefits. The planning process based on national guidelines directly incorporates consideration of all environmental effects, with a particular focus on possible impacts upon non-target species or habitats. The results of the SEA are incorporated directly into the management plan itself, but are also summarized below in this statement.
It is anticipated that conservation measures for the Eastern Ribbonsnake should lead to the conservation of additional wetlands and the surrounding habitat. Such actions will be beneficial to other species relying on these habitats. Inventory or monitoring activities will have little or no negative effect on other species. Outreach and education programs will likely reduce negative perceptions of not only the Eastern Ribbonsnake, but also other snake species. Actions that lead to a reduction in traffic mortality for the Eastern Ribbonsnake, such as creation of ecopassages and addition of road barrier fences, will also reduce the mortality for other species of reptiles and amphibians. Some examples of species at risk that will benefit from these conservation measures are listed below in Table 3.
|Common Name||Scientific (Latin) Name||SARA Status||Province|
|Eastern Foxsnake (Carolinian population)||Pantherophis gloydi||Endangered||Ontario|
|Eastern Foxsnake (Great Lakes/ St. Lawrence population)||Pantherophis gloydi||Endangered||Ontario|
|Eastern Hog-nosed Snake||Heterodon platirhinos||Threatened||Ontario|
|Gray Ratsnake (Great Lakes/St. Lawrence population)||Pantherophis spiloides||Threatened||Ontario|
|Snapping Turtle||Chelydra serpentine||Special Concern||Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia|
|Northern Map Turtle||Graptemys geographica||Special Concern||Ontario, Quebec|
|Spotted Turtle||Clemmys guttata||Endangered||Ontario, Quebec|
|Blanding's Turtle||Emydoidea blandingii||Threatened||Ontario, Quebec|
|Milksnake||Lampropeltis triangulum||Special Concern||Ontario, Quebec|
|Eastern Musk Turtle||Sternotherus odoratus||Special Concern||Ontario, Quebec|
|Least Bittern||Ixobrychus exilis||Threatened||Ontario, Quebec|
|King Rail||Rallus elegans||Endangered||Ontario|
|Bent Spike-rush||Eleocharis geniculata||Endangered||Ontario|
|Hill's Pondweed||Potamogeton hillii||Special Concern||Ontario|
Appendix B: Sub-national conservation ranks of the Eastern Ribbonsnake in the United States
|SNR||Indiana, Ohio, South Carolina|
|S2||Delaware, Vermont, West Virginia|
|S3||Kentucky, Maine, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island.|
|S4||District of Columbia, Louisiana, New York, North Carolina,|
|S5||Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Virginia|
S1: Critically Imperilled; S2: Imperilled; S3: Vulnerable; S4: Apparently Secure; S5: Secure; SNR: Unranked
- Footnote 1
Native to a specific region or environment and not occurring naturally anywhere else (NatureServe 2014).
- Footnote 2
At moderate risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction.
- Footnote 3
At very high risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to very restricted range, very few populations or occurrences, very steep declines, severe threats, or other factors.
- Footnote 4
A wildlife species that may become a threatened or an endangered species because of a combination of biological characteristics and identified threats.
- Footnote 5
A wildlife species that may become a threatened or an endangered species because of a combination of biological characteristics and identified threats.
- Footnote 6
List of wildlife species likely to be designated as threatened or vulnerable(December 1, 2013):
- Footnote 7
Refers to reptile scales that, rather than being smooth, have a ridge down the center that may or may not extend to the tip of the scale, making them rough to the touch.
- Footnote 8
The Eastern Ribbonsnake was first observed in Quebec in 2003 (Desroches and Laparé 2004), following the completion of the COSEWIC Status Report (Smith 2002).
- Footnote 9
An area of land and/or water where a species is, or was, present, and which has practical conservation value. NHIC information accessed March 2012.
- Footnote 10
For occurrences that have not been reconfirmed for 20 or more years.
- Footnote 11
An animal that produces very little body heat internally, relying on heat from its environment to keep its body warm (Bell et al. 2007)
- Footnote 12
Active during the day.
- Footnote 13
Species that have been introduced into an area where they do not naturally occur.
- Footnote 14
An underground shelter of a hibernating animal.
- Footnote 15
The following threat assessment primarily reflects knowledge pertaining to Ontario. In Quebec, Eastern Ribbonsnakes are found in relatively isolated and discrete areas, where the level of concern of the threats cited is relatively low.
- Footnote 16
Human persecution of snakes occurs when people either do not like or fear the species. Many times persecution results in snakes being intentionally killed, and contributes to lower population numbers or the local extirpation of the snake species.
- Footnote 17
"Priority" reflects the degree to which the measure contributes directly to the conservation of the species or is an essential precursor to a measure that contributes to the conservation of the species. High priority measures are considered those most likely to have an immediate and/or direct influence on attaining the management objective for the species. Medium priority measures may have a less immediate or less direct influence on reaching the management population and distribution objectives, but are still important for management of the population. Low priority measures will likely have an indirect or gradual influence on reaching the management objectives, but are considered important contributions to the knowledge base and/or public involvement and acceptance of species.
- Footnote 18
- Date Modified: