Timber harvest and prescribed fire as tools for Massasauga conservation

Michael J Ravesi, Purdue University


The Massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus) is a rattlesnake species that is imperiled throughout its distribution. It was very recently listed as Threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A major cause of the snake’s decline is habitat destruction and current unavailability of quality habitat. One method land managers can employ to combat habitat quality issues for species conservation is to modify the landscape in hopes of improving the condition of habitat for target species. Relatively little research has been conducted on methods aimed at improving habitat for reptiles, though there is a growing body of research focused on the Massasauga. In particular, there is a need to examine the impacts of habitat manipulation on Massasaugas in the long-term. I used radio telemetry to monitor the habitat preferences and spatial ecology of Massasaugas during 2013–2015. I compared my results to those from two other telemetry sampling year groups (2002–2004 and 2006–2007) at the same study site to examine potential impacts of habitat manipulation over time. In winter 2006 a clear-cutting operation occurred to open tree canopy for snakes at our study site. Additionally, a large-scale fire that stemmed from a small arms training range fire burned through the study site in 2010. Compositional analysis indicated that these landscape manipulations did not dramatically alter snake macrohabitat preferences over time, though shifts did occur. Relative use of aspen cuts, specifically, increased in the long-term. Two gravid females gestated and gave birth in the aspen cuts for the first time in the 2013–2015 year group and two gravid females gestated and gave birth in the burn. There were no significant changes in activity range size, mean step movement, or range length for sexes between year groups, with the exception of males in 2013–2015, which had the longest range lengths. Modified habitats during the 2013–2015 year group provided microhabitat structure that was favorable to this species. Additionally, manipulated habitat types offered significantly higher thermal quality than natural habitat types. The results suggest that while compositional analysis did not detect strong changes in macrohabitat selection for manipulated sites, the sites nevertheless are utilized by snakes and at least provide the opportunity for benefits. As such, clear-cutting and prescribed fire have the potential to serve as tools for Massasauga conservation, so long as their undertaking is timed according to the Massasauga activity season.




Kingsbury, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Wildlife Conservation|Wildlife Management|Conservation

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