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Lake Erie Water Snakes and Seawall Restoration
Did you know that Lake Erie Water Snakes (LEWS) are an Ohio State listed endangered species? Did you know the Lake Erie
Water Snake was recently removed from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife due to recovery? Did you know that
the intentional killing of Lake Erie Water Snake is prohibited by state law?
In 2018 the National Park Service (NPS) completed an Environmental Assessment as required by the National Environmental
Policy Act of 1969 as part of the planning for the Seawall Restoration underway now. This Environmental Assessment, otherwise
referred to as an EA, included an analysis of potential impacts to the environment and, if there would be any, the NPS considered
alternatives and mitigations to these impacts. One potential impact considered, would have been to Lake Erie Water Snakes and its
The Lake Erie Water Snake’s summer habitat consists mainly of rocky shorelines with adjacent vegetation and shoreline
structures such as crib docks. Winter hibernation habitat includes the island interior and heavily vegetated shoreline areas. To
minimize impacts to the Lake Erie Water Snake and its habitat, the Seawall contractor ES Wagner limited ground disturbance between
October and April when the snakes would be hibernating. As part of the contract, the NPS required a biological monitor to provide
training and monitor any ground disturbance during hibernating season. We were very fortunate to have Dr. Kristin Stanford serve in
this capacity bringing over 20 years of experience in Lake Erie Water Snake conservation and work as a recovery coordinator.
At one point this spring the contractor encountered a hibernation and retreat site, and as required, work immediately stopped in
that area. Project engineers conducted additional structural analysis, consulted with Dr. Stanford, and developed an alternative plan for
restoring that section of seawall. Together the NPS, ES Wagner, and Dr. Stanford were able to minimize impacts to the Lake Erie
Water Snakes and preserve the hibernation and retreat site.
Lake Erie Water Snakes have one of the smallest geographic ranges of any vertebrate in the world and are only found around the
islands of Lake Erie.
Studies show that the Lake Erie Water Snakes diet consists mostly of the aquatic nuisance species, the round goby.
Lake Erie Water Snakes mate from late May to early June by forming “mating balls” consisting of one female and several males.
Live birth of 30 or so pencil-sized young occurs in early September with only 15% surviving the first year.
The previous piece is published in this month’s Put-in-Bay Gazette. The Gazette has been producing incredible independent Put-in-Bay island news for over 40 years. If you have any interest at all in what is happening on South Bass Island, we urge you strongly to subscribe to the Put-in-Bay Gazette. One-year online subscriptions are only $15, and print subscriptions are available as well. To subscribe please click here.
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