Snakes get a home on the shore

PUT-IN-BAY A deal reached recently is one the Lake Erie Water Snake can sink its teeth into.
Cory Frolik
May 24, 2010



A deal reached recently is one the Lake Erie Water Snake can sink its teeth into.

About 9.1 acres of island habitat is being set aside on the eastern tip of South Bass Island for the threatened snake and thousands of migratory birds.

Three primary groups -- the Western Reserve Land Conservancy, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Put-in-Bay Township Park District -- and several others teamed up and pooled their resources together to secure the land.

Time was of the essence in the deal.

Aggressive efforts to develop that bit of shoreline and connecting, inland area meant action had to be taken without delay, according to the Western Reserve Land Conservancy.

"There was a private developer who had purchased it to build anywhere from six to nine very exclusive homes on the lot," said Lisa Brohl, Put-in-Bay Township park commissioner.

Seven years of trying to find a means to designate the land as a public park and wildlife habitat paid off when the project was awarded a $1.8 million federal grant to fund the land acquisition.

That will pay for the vast majority of the $2.6 million selling price from the private developer.

While the Western Reserve Conservancy is footing a large portion of the rest of the bill, fundraising efforts will be held to raise the remaining $253,000.

Extinction has long threatened the Lake Erie Water Snake. Shoreline development and human violence have caused their numbers to dwindle, reports the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The snake is not poisonous, but its tendency to wind up in people's yards and boats has contributed to its decline, experts say.

The new habitat may result in the delisting of the Lake Erie Water Snake as a "Threatened" species.

"The $1.8 million from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services is called a Section 6 grant, Section 6 of the Endangered Species Act, and the funds are to help recover species that are on that list," said Mark Skowronski, land protection director for the Western Reserve Land Conservancy. "This acquisition completely fulfills the habitat preservation requirements for the species."

It's very rare to have one land project facilitate a species' rebound, he noted.

The preservation of the water snake alone would have made funding the land acquisition a tough sell, Brohl said.

"Not everyone loves that snake. We want to make sure it's not just for the snake: It's for birds and people," Brohl said.

As far as bird-watching goes, a more fascinating spot would be tough to find, she said. And first-rate shoreline fishing will also be an attraction.

Proponents of economic development often overlook the benefits of having a diverse range of land use in an area, Skowronski said.

"These type of projects enhance economic development. People go to Put-In-Bay to have a good time and for recreation, but if this whole island was bulldozed, no one would go there," he said. "You want these natural areas that ... really increase people's enjoyment of the island."