PARRY SOUND – Parks Canada is creating a plan to take the Massasauga rattlesnake off the Species at Risk list.
Brainstorming to increase the Massasauga population.
Fluffy, a 10-year-old Massasauga rattle snake was on display during the information session where residents were asked for feedback on how to take the reptile off the Species at Risk list.
Sarah Bissonette/Beacon Star
The eastern shore of Georgian Bay is one of the two spots in Ontario where the snake’s population is the largest and most secure, according to a draft Recovery Strategy for the Massasauga. Canada is home to more than 10 per cent of the snake’s population.
Parks Canada held an open house last Tuesday in Parry Sound to garner the public’s input on the proposed recovery plan for Ontario’s only venomous snake, described by one of the presenters as part of the area’s national heritage.
The meeting went beyond the government’s regular route of posting the request for input in an attempt to garner more public feedback and generate awareness, but barely a handful of people had stopped in by the mid-way point.
“This snake suffers from a lot of misconceptions,” said Parks Canada spokesperson Scott Currie. “It’s a poorly understood animal. There’s a lot of fear out there because of that misunderstanding. So what we are trying to do tonight, but also with this recovery strategy, is try and dispel those myths and educate people about the snake. We’re trying to replace fear with respect.”
The strategy includes preventing people from killing the species upon detection, education, and the mapping and protection of habitat.
“The recovery of species is the responsibility of all people of Ontario and now that we have the science and what the scientists think needs to happen, the people of Ontario need to say ‘well, that’s great scientists, but we also think you need to do this,’” said Jeremy Rouse, Species at Risk biologist with the Parry Sound Ministry of Natural Resources office and member of the Massasauga Recovery Team that wrote the draft strategy.
The Massasauga Recovery Team includes those working for the federal, provincial, and municipal governments along with not-for-profit and private organizations.
The plan currently relates to federal property only, such as the Georgian Bay Islands National Park, but the province will review, adapt and adopt it once complete.
According to Rouse, there isn’t enough federal land available in this area for a recovery of the species.
“The province’s turn will come soon,” said Parks Canada biologist Stephen McCanny “We will work with them where this species occurs and what kind of activities are appropriate in that area…They’re live birthers, so they don’t lay eggs, so if the snake is sunning itself preparing for birth, and you destroy that rock, that area, without even hurting the animal, you’ll be fined in a national park.”
Rouse elaborated on that, and said that the recovery strategy will outline a process in a national park, “where you would have education of staff and park users. It would probably also designate areas within (the park) where they will have critical habitat that needs to be protected and identified as such. So, no park infrastructure would be built in those areas.”
The strategy goes on, said Rouse, to ensure that people aren’t killing the massasauga rattlesnake.
“One of the big things in the strategy is that you shouldn’t be killing rattlesnakes anymore because there’s no reason for it,” said Rouse.
In September, Parks Canada will post the draft strategy online for a 60-day commenting period.