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March 8, 2004
Agreement To Protect Rare Snake, Improve Forest Habitat
NEW ORLEANS — A new conservation agreement to protect and improve habitat for the rare Louisiana pine snake will benefit a host of other wildlife species that also live in East Texas pine forests, including game animals as well as other rare species.
Eight state and federal partners announced an agreement here March 2 that defines future actions to protect the Louisiana pine snake, a rare reptile found in Texas and Louisiana. The partners signed the candidate conservation agreement in December to identify and establish management for the Louisiana pine snake on federal lands in Texas and Louisiana.
The non-venomous Louisiana pine snake, a candidate for federal listing under the Endangered Species Act, historically ranged throughout the upland pine ecosystems of western Louisiana and east-central Texas, particularly the now imperiled longleaf pine forests. The snake is also listed as threatened by the State of Texas and as a species of conservation concern by the State of Louisiana. It is currently known to survive in only a few locations in each state and is likely one of the rarest snakes in the nation.
The Pineywoods of East Texas contain at least half of the suitable habitat for the snake, which prefers the sandy soil and ridge tops of southeastern upland pine forests.
"Mature upland pine forests with a grassy, herbaceous understory are the preferred habitat of this snake, and these also support a number of other threatened and endangered species, as well as game animals," said Ricky Maxey, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department wildlife biologist in Nacogdoches. "This includes the red cockaded woodpecker, Texas trailing phlox, Bachman’s sparrow and other rare species. Game animals supported by these forests include bobwhite quail, eastern wild turkey and white-tailed deer."
The signatories to the pine snake agreement include: Texas National Forests, the U.S. Forest Service’s Southern Research Station, TPWD, Kisatchie National Forest, Fort Polk Military Installation, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southeast and Southwest Regions.
The voluntary agreement provides a means for all agencies to work together on projects to avoid and minimize impacts to the snake. The agreement also sets up a mechanism to exchange information about successful management practices and coordinate research efforts.
Prescribed burning of the forest for the Louisiana pine snake maintains the fire-dependent animal and plant communities that developed over time, and prevents encroachment by off-site vegetation types that subsequently change the ecosystem. In addition to the ecological benefits, this forest is safer from detrimental wildfire events and more aesthetically pleasing to visitors.
"The biggest thing lacking on the landscape in East Texas at present is mature forests, by which I mean mid-to-late successional forests, trees at least 50-100 years old or older," Maxey said. "For the pine snake, what’s critical is the open character of the older forest, and the grassy and herbaceous understory plant communities. These understory plant communities provide the habitat base for the pine snake’s preferred prey, the pocket gopher. Young pines tend to grow in denser stands. Natural fire doesn’t happen like it used to since people began suppressing it. So we need prescribed burning to maintain the understory and mimic natural conditions."
Maxey said TPWD intends to manage its relevant wildlife management areas in East Texas for the pine snake through prescribed burning and other habitat improvement tactics, as well as encourage private landowners and others to do the same through its grant programs and free technical guidance to landowners.
Downloadable photos and a fact sheet about the Louisiana pine snake are available online (http://southeast.fws.gov/news/).
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