Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Different Point Of View: Ontario's Fox Snake Restoration Program

The following commentary presents a different, but familiar point of view, regarding taxes spent on conservation projects. This view point is always interesting to me because it is so different than mine. Be sure to follow the link at the bottom and read the comments, some are interesting. Some background: The Eastern Fox Snake (Pantherophis gloydi) is considered threatened provincially and nationally in Canada. It is thought to have declined in Ontario as wetlands were drained and shorelines were developed for cottages. It is protected under Ontario's 2007 Endangered Species Act but it is also protected in two National Parks, and 16 Provincial Parks and Nature Reserves. In Ontario, this species is also protected under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act.  

Vander Doelen: Millions spent on snake housing
Did you know that the endangered eastern fox snake can climb like a monkey?
Well, not exactly like a monkey. Although rather talented for a snake, the eastern fox is a little short on fingers. But the remarkable fact that a two-metre-long snake native to Canada can climb at all means that the new Windsor-Essex Parkway, when completed, will be protected on both sides by more than 22 kilometres of snake-proof fencing.

The fence will be nearly two metres tall itself, and its bottom edge will be buried two feet deep because the wily fox snake burrows even better than it climbs.

The fences will be there entirely for the protection of the snake, however, rather than squeamish drivers who might be creeped out by seeing such a large reptile sunning itself on the road, as they like to do.

The plan is to prevent the handsome spotted devils from straying onto the six-lanes of concrete pavement, where they would become snake pizza.
Protecting the eastern fox snake and other seldom-seen species of flora and fauna along the 11-kilometre route of the new parkway will account for a significant chunk of the $2.2 billion Ontario intends to spend to build and maintain the highway over the next 30 years.

News of the snake-proof fence was among the project details revealed last week by provincial bureaucrats who've been planning the international highway link for the last five years. In addition to the fences, accredited herpetologists have been seconded to the project from other ministries, or hired on as consultants.

There won't be any full-time snake wranglers on site during construction, per say. But enough snake-spotting training will be provided for all the staff -- from supervisors to heavy equipment operators -- that by the end of the three years of work the province will be able to boast truthfully that no snakes were carelessly harmed during the building of the project.

And don't think they won't boast. If there's one thing we know for certain about Premier Dalton McGuinty's Liberals is that they define themselves by their green credentials, no matter how much they cost taxpayers.
Officials sent to Windsor to release further details of the project last week weren't able to provide us with estimates of the environmental protection costs embedded in the project, but they are certain to run into millions. Perhaps tens of millions.

"We can't kill anything," says Fausto Natarelli, the senior Ministry of Transportation official running the project. "We're going to extraordinary measures because it's the right thing to do."

As a nature lover myself -- including the half dozen snake species which share our woodlot near Harrow -- I'm glad the province is spending my money to avoid unnecessarily killing these creatures.

I'm a little less convinced of the need to protect five species of so-called "endangered" wildflowers and trees which have been identified along the 11-kilometre route.

These plants are rare only in Canada. Utterly common in warmer U.S. climes, their survival as a species wouldn't be threatened by the parkway project even if every one of them was buried under a metre of concrete.
But they've already started marking some of them for relocation, if you've noticed all the pretty pink tape dotting the ditches along Talbot Road.

By next summer, hundreds of plants will have been transplanted to the parks and nature reserves which dot the west end of the city.

The species involved include the fabulous dense blazing star, a one-metre-tall perennial weed of dazzling purple magnificence which I intend to find for our own gardens, now that I know what it looks like. Other species to be relocated include the colic root (sometimes called the wild native yam), and the Kentucky coffee tree, a large hardwood with a deep tap root which will be tough to move unless they find small specimens.

They have until the fall of 2011 to find new homes for the "dislocated" species. Although design work is well underway, little of the three million cubic metres of dirt which has to be moved for the project will be disturbed until late next summer at the earliest, officials say.

Before then, biologists will recreate "hibernacula," or winter hibernation burrows, in nearby nature reserves for the 100-odd eastern fox snakes known to occupy the site.

You heard that right. In McGuinty's Ontario, we even build government housing for snakes. Maybe it's best I don't know how much of our money they're spending. I'm already irked enough by the hydro bills.

Read more: http://www.windsorstar.com/technology/Vander+Doelen+Millions+spent+snake+housing/4006375/story.html#ixzz18n3n4h1M

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