The Eastern Massasauga: A Handbook for Land Managers

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US Fish and Wildlife Service


In October1999, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), added the eastern massasauga (hereafter referred to as massasauga) to the candidate species list. Candidate species are those that are in danger of extinction within the foreseeable future. Such species warrant threatened or endangered status pursuant to the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) but are awaiting processing while higher priority listing actions are addressed. Although candidate species are not yet afforded the protection of the ESA, FWS strives to initiate conservation actions to slow or halt the decline of such species during this interim period. During an analysis of the massasauga’s range wide status, FWS discovered that many populations persist on protected land (i.e., publicly owned or land purposely set-aside by nongovernmental entities for long-term preservation). This is very fortunate because the decline of the massasauga can be slowed, perhaps even halted, by considering the biology of this species during management of these sites. To facilitate incorporating massasauga biology into existing management strategies, we solicited the assistance of massasauga experts from across the species range to develop practical management guidelines for land managers. The objectives of this document are to provide a basic understanding of massasauga habitat needs and to provide recommendations of how to consider massasauga in routine management activities. Because of the variability in habitat use across the species range, these guidelines are not management prescriptions. Rather, this document should be viewed as a primer for land managers. To successfully incorporate massasauga biology into management plans, both area- and population-specific factors must be considered. We envision that these guidelines will provide a foundation from which land managers, with assistance from massasauga experts, can identify sound conservation actions for this species at their sites. It is also important to work closely with your state’s endangered species staff to obtain guidance and necessary permits, as massasaugas are protected to some degree in every state and province they occur. Although this handbook is focusing on protected lands, we are not dismissing the value of private lands in conserving the massasauga. In fact, we believe private lands, particularly those adjacent to protected properties, are necessary for the long-term stewardship of the massasauga. Although protected lands provide the core of the remaining habitat, massasauga populations in many situations use and depend on non-protected lands for foraging, reproduction, and perhaps hibernation as well. We recognize, however, that conservation efforts on private lands can be limited by economic and social factors. Thus, our efforts will initially focus on protected lands. The context and organization of this document, we hope will meet the needs of most land managers. We begin with a detailed discussion about the biology of massasaugas, and for a quick reference provide a bulleted summary of the important components of its life history. In sections 2 and 3, we provide an in-depth description of the primary factors affecting massasauga populations and suggested practices to minimize such impacts. Again, for a quick reference, we also provide bulleted summaries at the end of each section. Lastly, we have included several appendices with helpful information and examples of various issues discussed in the text.



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