On May 1, USDA Forest Service, U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the Memphis Zoo, and other partners released seven young Louisiana pine snakes on a restored longleaf pine stand in the Kisatchie National Forest in Louisiana.
Already listed as threatened in Texas and a candidate for listing under the Federal Endangered Species Act, the Louisiana pine snake population has declined because of alterations to the its native pine longleaf pine habitat and that of its prey.
A nonvenomous species, the Louisiana pine snake spends most of its time underground in burrows of its favorite prey, the Baird’s pocket gopher. The ideal habitat for both species consists of dry, sandy-soiled ridges covered with longleaf pine trees and an open understory of the grasses and forbs the pocket gophers feed on. This habitat largely disappeared due to commercial logging in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and subsequent fire suppression.
“Without fire, these upland pine savannahs rapidly develop a midstory that shades out the grassy understory that pocket gophers need,” says Rudolph. “The release site on the Kisatchie, which was intentionally restored for red-cockaded woodpecker habitat, should also support pocket gophers and Louisiana pine snakes.”
Only time will tell whether the Louisiana pine snake can be sustainably restored to longleaf pine ecosystems in its native range.
“In the best-case scenario, there would still be Louisiana pine snakes out there that we’ve never caught that can breed with the released snakes,” says Rudolph. “We have traps operating for thousands of trap days a year in Texas, for instance, and haven’t caught a single snake in three years. When we find better ways to monitor our releases, perhaps we’ll find some additional populations.”For more information: Craig Rudolph at email@example.com or 936-569-7981
Craig Rudolph | EurekAlert!
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