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The Midwest Region includes Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin.
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Copperbelly Water Snake

Northern Population Segment of the Copperbelly Water Snake (Nerodia erythrogaster neglecta)
Recovery Plan

December 2008


Below is the Executive Summary of the Recovery Plan. Click here for a PDF version of the entire Copperbelly Water Snake Draft Recovery Plan.



Prepared by:
Dr. Bruce Kingsbury - Indiana Purdue University Fort Wayne, and
Carrie L. Tansy - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


Current Species Status:The northern population of the copperbelly water snake (Nerodia erythrogaster neglecta) is listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a Distinct Population Segment (DPS). The DPS consists of populations north of the 40th Parallel, in Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. Surveys over the last twenty years have documented an ongoing decline in these populations. Many populations are now extirpated, and the five that remain are very small. Even the largest population, located in Ohio, is in decline with adults likely numbering in the low hundreds, or less.


Habitat Requirements and Limiting Factors:
Copperbelly water snakes have both wetland and terrestrial habitat requirements but are associated most often with wetland complexes characterized by a preponderance of shallow wetlands, many of which draw down seasonally. Thus, the species needs habitat complexes of isolated wetlands distributed in a forested upland matrix, floodplain wetlands fed by seasonal flooding, or a combination of both. Individuals move hundreds of meters or more between wetlands and routinely use multiple wetlands over the course of an active season. They also spend substantial periods of time in upland situations, aestivating, foraging, and shedding. In addition, fishless wetlands that have high anuran (frog and toad) productivity are required to provide habitat and a suitable prey base.


The principal limiting factor for copperbellies is the availability of wetland/upland habitat complexes of sufficient size. Research indicates that copperbellies require many hundreds of hectares of contiguous habitat in order to persist. Additional threats are human persecution, inadequate habitat management, and road crossings.


Recovery Strategy:
The principal recovery strategy is to establish and conserve multiple wetland/upland habitat complexes that provide adequate habitat for population persistence. The existence of several such landscape complexes will greatly reduce the risk of extinction due to catastrophic or otherwise unanticipated losses of populations. Our recovery strategy focuses on targeted habitat restoration and implementation of “best management practices” for land managers. Additional efforts will also focus on reducing take due to collection by humans and malicious killing. Outreach materials will be developed regarding the species’ presence in the community as part of the natural environment and to reduce the fear of snakes.


Recovery Goal: To remove the species from the Federal list of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife (50 CFR 17.11).


Recovery Objectives: (1) To ensure long-term persistence of multiple viable populations across the geographic range of the DPS; (2) to conserve sufficient wetland/upland habitat complexes to support these populations; (3) to reduce known threats to the extent possible; and (4) to develop and distribute educational materials on the natural history of copperbellies, their habitat requirements, and appropriate management guidelines for the species and its habitat.


Recovery Criteria:
Delisting Criteria

Delisting of the species will be considered when the five factors (see Threats discussion) are assessed and when the following criteria are met:


Criterion 1. Multiple population viability is assured:


a) Five geographically distinct populations have population sizes of more than 500 adults, with at least one population exceeding 1000 adults; or three populations must have a total population size of 3000 adults, with none less than 500, and


b) These populations must persist at these levels for at least ten years.


Criterion 2. Sufficient habitat is protected and managed:

a) Wetland/upland habitat complexes sufficient to support the populations described in Criterion 1 are permanently conserved.


1) A population of 1000 adults will require at least five square miles of landscape matrix with a high density and diversity of shallow wetlands imbedded in largely forested uplands.


2) A population of 500 adults will require at least three square miles of the same type of habitat.


b) Multiple (two or more) hibernacula for each population are permanently conserved. A minimum of two hibernacula will be available within one kilometer of all suitable habitat included above.


Criterion 3. Significant threats due to lack of suitable management, adverse land features and uses, collection and persecution have been reduced or eliminated:


a) Habitat management and protection guidelines have been developed, distributed and maintained.


b) Adverse land features and uses, such as row crops, roads and accompanying traffic, have been removed, minimized, or managed within occupied Criterion 1 landscape complexes to the extent possible.


c) A comprehensive education and outreach program, including persecution and collection deterrence, has been developed and implemented.


Reclassification Criteria
The copperbelly water snake will be considered for reclassification from threatened to endangered status when the five factors (see Threats discussion) are assessed and when either of the following criteria is met:


Criterion 1: There are no known populations of more than 500 adults.


Criterion 2: The cumulative population size is estimated at less than 1000.


If classified as Endangered, then the species may be reclassified as Threatened when those conditions are no longer true.


Actions Needed:

1. Identify and conserve habitat complexes sufficient for recovery


2. Monitor known copperbelly water snake populations and their habitat


3. Improve baseline understanding of copperbelly water snake ecology


4. Develop recovery approaches to enhance recruitment and population size


5. Develop and implement public education and outreach efforts


6. Review and track recovery progress


7. Develop a plan to monitor copperbelly water snake after it is delisted


Estimated Cost of Recovery for FY 2009 – 2039 (in $1000): Details are found in the Implementation Schedule.


Year(s) Action 1 Action 2 Action 3 Action 4 Action 5 Action 6 Action 7 TOTAL
1 190 45 35 20 9 1 0 300
2 210 45 65 50 9 1 0 380
3 200 55 65 70 9 1 0 400
4-30 305+ 535 45 5+ 702 37 15 1014+
TOTAL 905+ 680 210 145+ 99 40 15 2094+

Date of Recovery: Contingent on funding and implementation of recovery actions, full recovery of this species may occur by 2039.


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