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Draft Plan Would Conserve Rare Snake on Kelleys Island as Development Proceeds

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service invites public comment on a draft plan that would provide conservation and protection for the federally threatened Lake Erie water snake and its habitat on Kelleys Island in Erie County, Ohio. Proposed residential development on Kelleys Island would alter habitat used by the rare snake.

A notice of availability of a draft Environmental Assessment and Habitat Conservation Plan and an application for an incidental take permit under the Endangered Species Act, appears in the August 12, 2005 Federal Register. The public will have 60 days to comment on the assessment and plan. The permit application was made by Predevelopment LTD which proposes a single residential development on Long Point on Kelleys Island. The proposed development would alter or destroy habitat needed by the Lake Erie water snake.

If approved, the incidental take permit would allow the proposed residential development to affect some habitat used by the snakes, as well as take of some snakes, as long as measures outlined in the Habitat Conservation Plan to avoid, minimize, and mitigate impacts are followed. Before issuing an incidental take permit, the Service must evaluate alternatives considered in the Habitat Conservation Plan. This analysis is included in the Environmental Assessment that is now available for public review and comment, along with the plan.

The Endangered Species Act prohibits take harming, harassing, or killing a listed species, including destruction of habitat. However, the Act allows incidental take – take which is incidental to but not the intent of a particular activity as long as an approved Habitat Conservation Plan is in place that would mitigate the effects of take and provide for future conservation of the species.

Predevelopment LTD is proposing to develop a 6.45-acre property on Kelleys Island, an area occupied by Lake Erie water snakes. The area contains one multi-owner residential lot, and under the draft Habitat Conservation Plan, measures would be taken by landowners to conserve the snake and its habitat on the property. Proposed actions to conserve the snake and lessen the impacts of construction and development include:

 Restrictions on when ground-disturbing activities, such as construction and mowing, can occur. Snakes are vulnerable in spring and fall while moving to and from hibernating areas;

 Establishment of a conservation area to protect important lakeside habitat, used by Lake Erie water snakes during summer and winter months;

 Restrictions on the use of pesticides and fertilizers in the conservation area, although spot-treatment for poison ivy would be permitted;

 Restrictions on the size and placement of the residence, garage, deck, driveway and septic system;

 Monitoring of the Lake Erie water snake for 15 years to gauge the effectiveness of these measures.

Written comments on the draft plan and assessment may be directed to Regional HCP Coordinator, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1 Federal Drive, Fort Snelling, MN, 55111-4056; fax 612-713-5292; e-mail to Copies of the draft Habitat Conservation Plan and Environmental Assessment are available by writing, telephoning, faxing, or e-mailing the addresses above, and they are also available for viewing at the Service’s webpage at A copy is also available at the public library at 528 Division Street on Kelleys Island. Written comments are due on or before October 11, 2005.

Kelleys Island harbors the largest population of Lake Erie water snakes in the United States. Lake Erie water snake habitat includes rocky shorelines and adjacent vegetation. Long Point’s rocky shoreline provides important shelter, breeding, foraging and hibernation habitat for Lake Erie water snakes. The species forages for small fish and amphibians near these locations and uses spaces among the rocks in man-made structures and along the shoreline for rest, reproduction and protection from predators. On Long Point, Lake Erie water snakes hibernate in sites above the water level on the shoreline and inland. The property proposed for development contains both summer shelter habitat and winter hibernation habitat for the Lake Erie water snake.

The Lake Erie water snake inhabits islands in Ohio and Ontario waters of Lake Erie. Populations of this species inhabiting offshore islands (island and rock outcrops that are more than 1 mile from the mainland) were listed as threatened in 1999. A species is designated as threatened if it is likely to become in danger of extinction within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range. Lake Erie water snake populations have declined due to development of shoreline habitat and because they were often killed by people.

Lake Erie water snakes are slate gray, or partly banded, and measure 1 to 3.5 feet in length. The snakes live along shorelines of the Lake Erie islands where they feed on small fish and amphibians. When approached by people, they usually flee into the water or seek cover.


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