U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Sacramento Fish & Wildlife OfficeServing the people, conserving the fish, wildlife, and plants of California

A Unit Of The Pacific Southwest Region

Creating an Oasis, Getting Results

Photo credit: Westervelt Ecological Services

Proper planning has provided a home for an endangered species despite severe drought conditions in California. Created in 2008, Sutter Basin Conservation Bank is showing great results when it comes to conserving the threatened giant garter snake in the Central Valley of California. Why? What allowed this bank to ensure a water dependent species could thrive in the worst drought of the century?

Last summer the State Water Resources Control Board ordered all the most junior water rights holders to curtail flows to their lands and Sutter Basin Conservation Bank was one of those. However, because we worked together to ensure a well was developed as a backup water supply, they had water all year long, which the snakes need to survive and reproduce in the summer months.

And because the surrounding agricultural fields were dry due to drought conditions, the bank became a snake oasis for the surrounding areas that may have had snakes but no water.

Just how well is the species doing there?

In order to understand that in concrete terms, Sutter Basin's owner, Westervelt Ecological Services, has been conducting extensive monitoring onsite. In 2010, the first year the bank was in operation, 16 snakes were trapped. Two years later (2012) 31 snakes were found and this last year (2014) despite severe drought conditions in California, 60 snakes were found in half the time as in previous years.

Planning for drought in the wet years has proven prudent and the giant garter snake is benefiting from the safe haven Sutter Basin Conservation Bank is providing in a drought stricken landscape.

Read more about their efforts from a story written in 2011 titled Building a Bank Takes More than Just Snakes.

Photo by Dave Kelly

While not the cuddliest of endangered species, the threatened giant garter snake plays an important role in the ecosystems it inhabits. Sutter Conservation Bank is one of the places helping to ensure it survives California’s historic drought. (Photo Credit: David Kelly/USFWS)

Photo of pump on the well-head

It might not look like much, but this pump on the well-head is one of the reasons an endangered species is thriving at Sutter Basin Conservation Bank despite the historic drought in California. (Photo Credit: USFWS)

Main channels created to provide habitat

Pictured here is one of the main channels created to provide habitat for the threatened giant garter snake at Sutter Basin Conservation Bank. (Photo Credit: USFWS)

Photo of Aeration system

An aeration system ensures that water pumped from the well has levels of dissolved oxygen high enough to support the snake and its aquatic prey. It also warms the water so it’s not too cold and doesn’t shock the wildlife. (Photo Credit: USFWS)

Photo prior to construction

Prior to construction, this photo shows a leveled field, one among many in the area. (Photo credit: Westervelt Ecological Services)

Photo of after contruction with habitat

After construction, you can see the variety of habitat types that create a patchwork of possibilities for species that use the area. Like much of the rest of the valley, this year, much of the area you see in green here is dry and unable to support wildlife. (Photo credit: Westervelt Ecological Services)

Last updated: November 9, 2017