Put-in-Bay, OH An Ohio State University Sea Grant researcher is seeing her hard work pay off after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) removed the Lake Erie Watersnake from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife on Monday. Kristin Stanford, Education and Outreach Coordinator at Ohio State’s Stone Laboratory, has worked toward the snake’s recovery since low population numbers caused the species to be added to the list in 1999. The Lake Erie Watersnake has a limited habitat range, living only on and near the islands in western Lake Erie.
"We are very proud and excited to finally be able to officially announce the recovery of this unique island species," Stanford says. "It’s a rare honor that a person gets to be involved from the start of a species’ listing and be able to see it through the delisting."
Even though the snake is harmless, it’s not very charismatic, and humans have been one of its main threats. When the USFWS listed the snake, the task of countering bad public opinion fell to Stanford, then a graduate student at Northern Illinois University (NIU). The university funded her as a research associate and she began a powerful outreach campaign to educate Lake Erie locals about the snakes.
Spending about half of her time researching the snakes and the other half advocating for them, Kristin worked to change people’s opinions of the harmless animals. By speaking at public schools and teaching herpetology courses at Stone Lab, Kristin is educating and energizing the next generation of conservationists.
"Getting the island community on board was an important component of our conservation program," Stanford says. "We promoted an overall message of ‘Respect the snake,’ rather than asking people to love them or even like them."
An annual snake census Kristin organizes combines research and outreach. Since 2002, the two-week event sees as many as 60 scientists and snake enthusiasts searching the nine U.S. Lake Erie islands, catching, and tagging snakes. And Kristin’s outreach efforts haven’t been confined to just Lake Erie residents. During the summer of 2006, she brought the snakes’ plight to the nationwide audience of the Discovery Channel’s "Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe." The camera crew filmed Kristin and the show host as they collected snakes, then weighed, measured, and marked them with identification tags. The episode lived up to the show’s name as the snakes showered the two in foul-smelling feces and musk before being forced to regurgitate partially digested fish. Meanwhile, the snakes were also trying to defend themselves by biting.
Along with Ohio State University and NIU, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife and USFWS also provide support to Stanford.
To learn more about Stanford’s role in the snake’s recovery, please see the 2011 Winter/Spring edition of Twine Line at go.osu.edu/ESQ .
Located on the 6.5-acre Gibraltar Island in Put-in-Bay harbor, Stone Laboratory is The Ohio State University’s Island Campus on Lake Erie and the education and research facility of the Ohio Sea Grant College Program. The Ohio State University’s Ohio Sea Grant Program is part of NOAA Sea Grant, a network of 32 Sea Grant programs dedicated to the protection and sustainable use of marine and Great Lakes resources. For information on Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Laboratory, visit ohioseagrant.osu.edu .
Kristin Stanford, Stone Laboratory Education and Outreach Coordinator, 419.285.1847, firstname.lastname@example.org .