Conservation and Recovery of the Massasauga in Ohio

The Massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus) is a small rattlesnake associated with open canopy wetlands and adjacent upland and wetland areas.  The Massasauga was listed as a state endangered species by the Ohio Division of Wildlife in 1996 and federally threatened under the Endangered Species Act by the US Fish & Wildlife Service on September 30, 2016.  

Historically, Massasuagas ranged throughout much of the glaciated portion of Ohio, but currently they occur in only a handful of areas.  Surveys and monitoring of populations in Ohio have been ongoing for decades, with my own work with the species beginning in 2001.  Since that time, I have captured and processed over 500 individuals across northern Ohio and documented several new sites of occurrence.  Thanks to a network of incredible partners, many of these sites have been protected and managed through fee-simple acquisitions, conservation easements, and/or management agreements.

The Massasauga may be the most studied snake species in the world, with much of the work being conducted in the Gibbs lab at Ohio State University.  Despite the research, population declines have continued throughout much of their range.  Previously, outright destruction of habitat and persecution were the greatest threats to the species.  Today, with most populations in Ohio occurring on protected property, the greatest threats are vegetative succession, invasive species, incompatible land management activities, and mortality due to vehicles and agricultural machinery.  

Ohio Conservation Plan: Massasauga
In 2017, I was the lead author of a conservation plan for the Massasauga in Ohio, providing the most thorough review of the species in the state and the activities required to recover the species.  My focus now is on implementation of this plan, while continuing to survey and monitor populations.  

I am particularly interested in further developing partnerships to fund and carry-out management that is required to maintain early-successional habitat and control invasive plant species.  Common management techniques to keep habitat suitable include mowing and prescribed fire, both of which can result in incidental take of Massasaugas.  Understanding the trade-off between suitable habitat and incidental take, and how these effect population viability, is also of interest.

This project is supported by the Ohio Division of Wildlife with funds donated through the Wildlife Diversity and Endangered Species Program, and through sales of the Wildlife Legacy Stamp.