Erie, PA The 15-year collaborative project to protect and grow the population of the Lake Erie watersnake (LEWS) was honored as a Success Story at the State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conference (SOLEC) on October 26 in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Laboratory’s Outreach Coordinator, Kristin Stanford, along with her multiple partners, accepted the regional award for their efforts to keep the native snake species from extinction. Northern Illinois University, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Black Swamp Conservancy Lake Erie Islands Chapter all joined together to lead the recovery of the LEWS. The snake is a federal threatened, state endangered species, that lives only on the western Lake Erie Islands. Thanks to this wide-reaching partnership, the LEWS population has rebounded and the animal was removed from the federal list of endangered and threatened species this past August.
“To have a species removed from the U.S. federal list of endangered and threatened species is quite an accomplishment,” says Nancy Stadler-Salt, the Canadian SOLEC Co-Chair. “It takes the work of a dedicated and passionate team. The partners involved with the recovery of the Lake Erie watersnake should be very proud of their achievement and the SOLEC Steering Committee is honored to recognize this exceptional project and efforts to improve the Great Lakes.”
A binational committee selected eight recipients from among the 29 nominated projects that have improved the Great Lakes environment, community, and economy; formed strong partnerships; and developed and distribute educational information to promote positive attitudes regarding the environment.
Stanford has worked toward the native snake’s recovery since 1999. Part of her work focuses on LEWS population surveys, in which more than 10,000 adult LEWS have been marked, creating one of the largest mark-recapture studies of reptiles ever. She also organizes an annual snake census where as many as 60 scientists and snake enthusiasts search the nine U.S. Lake Erie islands, catching, and tagging snakes.
“This was such a surprise and a great honor to be recognized by SOLEC,” Stanford says. “I’m really proud of all of our partners in the LEWS recovery effort and excited to be able to accept this award for all of us.”
Although the LEWS is harmless, humans have been one of its main threats over the last century. Stanford, known as “The Island Snake Lady,” launched an aggressive education and outreach campaign in 2000 to change people’s opinions of the animals. By speaking at public schools and teaching herpetology courses at Stone Lab, Stanford continues to educate and energize the next generation of conservationists. The LEWS recovery effort even reached a national audience during the summer of 2006, when Stanford appeared on Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs.”
Securing enough habitat was another factor that helped the LEWS rebound. A small group of islanders dedicated to habitat preservation established the Lake Erie Islands Chapter of the Black Swamp Conservancy, a local land trust. The group secured voluntary conservation easements to protect shoreline habitat, and began applying for state and federal grants. The group’s efforts have resulted in more than 11.4 miles of shoreline encompassing 318 acres of habitat being permanently protected for LEWS.
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/stanford .
Kristin Stanford, Stone Laboratory Education and Outreach Coordinator, 614.247.6500, firstname.lastname@example.org .