Friday, 13 December 2013

New plan gives new life to endangered giant garter snake – via Herp Digest

By The Record, November 30, 2013 

It should be easier to protect one of the region's creepiest endangered species under a plan announced recently by state officials.

The Department of Water Resources said it is using $4 million in voter-approved bond money to help flood-control agencies from Stockton to Fresno protect the giant garter snake.

The snake is not really giant at all, measuring only about 5 feet long. And it's harmless to humans. We're the ones who have harmed the snake, in fact, by paving over its wetland habitat up and down the Central Valley.

The giant garter snake's home has been split up into little pieces, making it harder for the species to survive. In 2009, a biologist found one of the snakes at an undisclosed location in San Joaquin County, the first such find in 15 years.

The snakes could be further threatened by plans to improve flood protection in the Valley by rebuilding or expanding levees, for example. And that's where the new program comes in.

In the past, the levee agencies have been required to find ways to diminish the harm done by their projects, often by purchasing suitable snake habitat to be preserved someplace else. This case-by-case approach resulted in piecemeal conservation efforts that were expensive and time-consuming, and preserved only very small and isolated pockets of habitat for the snakes.

Now officials have arranged for a giant garter snake "conservation bank" through which builders can purchase credits ahead of time and in bulk, lowering the cost. This will also allow for a larger swath of land to be preserved for the snakes, near the Volta Wildlife Area in Merced County, which houses the largest known breeding population of giant garter snakes in the San Joaquin Valley.

Officials say the new garter snake bank should be large enough to offset any harmful impacts of upcoming flood-control improvement plans along the San Joaquin River.

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