Sharp-tailed Snake vs. The Developer
Sharp-tailed Snake (Contia tenius) Photo credit Bill Bouton.
A friend used to define the difference between a developer and an environmentalist as, one builds houses in forests, and one lives in them. Development can certainly be a threat to some aspects of the environment and cause some species to become expatriated. And, snake populations living in or near developments can harmed because of the increased encounter rate between humans and snakes.
However, some environmentalists have taken the route of considering virtually everything endangered, this only dilutes the discussion with misinformation and results in a decline in credibility, a problem recently discussed the Onion.
And of course, once something is listed as threatened, endangered, or placed on a CITES list it automatically becomes more difficult for science to study it.
In Pembroke, British Colombia, environmentalists are picking a battle with a developer, they probably can’t win. They are attepting to use the Sharp-tailed Snake, Contia tenius, a threatened species to slow or halt the development of Sunshine Ridge.
The developer describes the community this way:
“The Pemberton Benchlands are set among the evergreens, overlooking the Pemberton Valley. Available home sites will enjoy spectacular views of majestic Mt. Currie, the lush valley farm lands and the surrounding mountain vistas… Pemberton is still the fastest growing community in BC, which makes it both the ideal place to move to and invest.”
The environmentals have a different view point. One resident writes,
“This side of Pemberton will be blasted a bit more and will show a start of our planet cancer: high-density housing. How many people is this going to bring over the next 25 years? Twenty-five hundred to 3,000 units on the plans — maybe over 5,000 people, 2,000 dogs (at least) and cats will be chasing wildlife on the MacKenzie Ridge (you can say goodbye to the endangered species like the sharp-tailed snake). Commercial zoning, hotel resort on the edge of Mosquito Lake, tourism accommodation between the two lakes. This place is more conducive to a tent.”
The local newspaper, the Question, reports that a local environmental organization, the Stewardship Pemberton Society (SPS) was recently successful in securing a grant from the Habitat Conservation Trust Fund in an effort to assist the Village of Pemberton in developing a policy for species-at-risk in large development permit areas.
Apparently this was in direct response to the discovery of the sharp-tailed snake in Pemberton in 2011 within one kilometre of the proposed Sunstone Ridge development. When council approved that Development Permit in February 2012, it was under the condition that snake habitat mitigation plan be implemented.
“Veronica Woodruff of the SPS reported to council during Tuesday’s (July 23) meeting that since beginning an inventory, 10 more of the Sharp-tailed snakes have been found in the Pemberton area.
“I am not a person that is against development,” said Woodruff. “But I do believe that construction can be done in a partnership and it can benefit both the species and the development.”
“Woodruff cited examples of snakes coexisting on residential properties in parts of Victoria and the Sunshine Coast islands.
“It’s really working proactively with the developers to talk about what we know about the snakes and some ideas on layout, construction mitigation and potential leave areas for these kinds of species.”
“When Coun. Mike Richman asked what the next step would be in working with the Sunstone Ridge developers, Woodruff replied:
“We know the preferred types of habitats. It’s literally an exercise in Google Earth, looking at the substrate and saying ‘OK, it’s likely this will be a good nesting and birthing area.’ If that’s an area that’s slated for development, take the time, pull it apart and see what’s there or consider leaving that area and tweaking the development.
“But development is not the only concern for the snakes. Several sightings have occurred on mountain bike trails, with one snake being found dead on Happy Trail after being run over by a mountain bike. Woodruff brought in a large sample of a sign to be mounted near bike trails that read “Brake for Snakes!
“The SPS will be reporting its final inventory of the Sharp-tailed snakes in September.”
In 1960, Sherburne Cook, wrote a short note in Herpetologica (16(3):163-167) on Contia tenius, he wrote “C. tenius is not the rare species previously supposed but perhaps locally one of the more common species on the West Coast…Furthermore, the range, ecological distribution, and behavior of this snake appear to be closely correlated with a highly utilized food resource – an introduced genus of slug.”
In 2010 Feldman and Hoyer (Copeia 2010(2):254-267) described a second species of Contia, C. longicaudae, from northern California and Oregon. There might be some hope here for the Pembroke, BC environmentalists if they can show their local sharp-tailed snake is a distinct – undescribed, cryptic species. But the fact of the matter is short-tailed snakes are not rare, just secretive. They give the impression of being rare because they are spending much of their time below ground. And, therefore are not good candidates for halting development.
This post originally appeared on John Murphy’s Serpent Research blog.
John C. Murphy is a retired teacher with field experience in North America, the Caribbean, Central America, Asia, and Australia. He is an experienced wildlife photographer and has authored/co-authored 4 books in the field of herpetology. He is a current Research Associate for the Division of Amphibians and Reptiles at the Field Museum and has served as president of the Chicago Herpetological Society. He can be contacted at [email protected]