When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

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jonathan
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When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by jonathan » August 4th, 2016, 10:43 am

I'm wondering what people's views on the idea of "habitat restoration" are. I'm not so concerned with negative examples as I'm hoping for any positive examples. (Or the simple and legitimate opinion that there are very few positive examples)

The reason I ask is because I've seen habitat restoration so often targeted at a single species. But I can have my doubts about whether the effort is worth it in the broader picture. When you're creating habitat for one species, you're destroying it for another species.

I saw someone in my herping circles is involved in a major attempt at habitat restoration for Timber Rattlesnakes on a hillside, I believe mostly falling trees so that a rock outcropping is exposed to the sun again, though possibly involving other things as well. I can see why someone might do that in an area where Timber Rattlers have become very rare. In the right spot, that might be useful where I'm from in Oregon too – especially if you were trying to attract, say, rubber boas, racers, skinks, and fence lizards. But those aren't exactly rare, at least not in the same way.

But even when it’s obvious how it might help, how do you weigh that against other factors? Do you do it even if the lizards/snakes don’t appear to be present, assuming they’ll show up? Do you relocate? If they are present, how do you decide which species should have habitat increased and/or decreased? Those are the sort of things I’m thinking about.


If anyone has some good thoughts on habitat restoration, or some good examples, I'd love to hear them.

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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by Antonsrkn » August 4th, 2016, 1:55 pm

Interesting question. Just a few thoughts from me here.
jonathan wrote:The reason I ask is because I've seen habitat restoration so often targeted at a single species. But I can have my doubts about whether the effort is worth it in the broader picture. When you're creating habitat for one species, you're destroying it for another species.
I guess I'm a purist... Which species was found there before the habitat changed? What changed the habitat, human influence? I'd strive to restore the habitat to whatever it was before people modified it directly or indirectly.

Of course, I'd also say its rarely so simple as creating habitat for one species and destroying it for another. Nothing exists in isolation and restoring habitat is changing entire ecological communities. Often if someone is going through the difficult task of restoring habitat then chances are the type of community theyre trying to bring back is imperiled, and id say of course its worth it then.
jonathan wrote:But even when it’s obvious how it might help, how do you weigh that against other factors? Do you do it even if the lizards/snakes don’t appear to be present, assuming they’ll show up? Do you relocate? If they are present, how do you decide which species should have habitat increased and/or decreased? Those are the sort of things I’m thinking about.
In my opinion there is no golden rule, everything must be considered on a case by case basis as the answers to those questions will change in every case depending on the species and situation.

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Bryan Hamilton
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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by Bryan Hamilton » August 4th, 2016, 2:51 pm

I agree that decisions should be made on a case by case basis. Also, what kind of restoration, passive or active? With any restoration, there will be winning and losing species. Everything decision, including the decision to not act, has consequences and involves trade-offs.

A couple positive examples that I am aware of. Burning wetlands to reduce woody plant cover and benifit eastern massassaugas, presumably had a lot of benifits to herps, as closed canopy forests can be unproductive to many reptiles. Restoration and grazing cessation at isolated springs to benefit frog species, ie Columbia spotted frogs and relict leopard frogs.

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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by bgorum » August 4th, 2016, 3:41 pm

How do you define restoration? A couple situations that I'm personally familiar with include restoration of roads and drill pads in Sanddune Lizard, (Sceloporus arenicolous) habitat after oil and gas drilling operations. From what I've been told the oil/gas companies break up the caliche roads and drill pads after they're done with them in the name of restoring sanddune lizard habitat. Next time it rains the broken up caliche is hard and compact again. Disadvantage here- oil and gas companies get to claim they are restoring habitat while actually doing nothing at all to restore it.

The other situation I'm familiar with involves removing non-native vegetation from the middle Rio Grande valley bosque. (Bosque is the term we use to refer to riparian forest here). There are certain species that do really well in the over-crowded salt cedar habitats that are being eliminated, (western diamon-backs love the stuff), but overall the removal of non-native trees produces a habitat that is closer to what it was before we mucked around with the hydrology of the whole system, is less prone to wild fires (wild fires were apparently not an important component in this ecosystem originally), have higher value as a recreational resource, and in my opinion at least are more pleasing aesthetically. The only downside I can see is cost if you're the sort of person that values money, but not nature.

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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by mtratcliffe » August 4th, 2016, 4:49 pm

I'm not aware of any habitat restoration that is targeted at a single species and only benefits that species at the expense of others. In general, restoring any land that was altered by humans or taken over by non-native growth is a good thing. Where I'm from in Maryland (Anne Arundel County), the county Dept of Public Works has restored dozens of eroded stream beds and malfunctioning stormwater control projects, returning many of them to a more natural state. One site I know of is just bursting at the seams with frogs and watersnakes.

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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by lateralis » August 4th, 2016, 4:55 pm

restoration should be at the landscape level as it protects far more than a single species - now if that species is a keystone species than protection of that species can have a top down effect. For example, restoring jaguar habitat not only serves the jaguar but also the many species that share the habitat.

Another consideration is "active restoration" vs "passive restoration" - consider how removal of tamarisk will affect the environment; Is that passive or active restoration?

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Kelly Mc
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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by Kelly Mc » August 4th, 2016, 6:00 pm

It seems like habitat restoration that encouraged herp life would require much interdisciplinary effort. there would seem to be subtleties that could possibly be addressed by geologists for example, that could inadvertently be a positive, without a knowledge of herps per say, and that herp focused restorers might not include.

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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by cbernz » August 4th, 2016, 7:33 pm

I know that there is (or has been) habitat restoration for Bog Turtle in NJ. I don't think it comes at the expense of anything else except for the invasive plants (like Purple Loosestrife) that they remove. In NJ, so much habitat is so severely degraded and choked with invasives that it's hard to argue that any habitat restoration is anything but a huge benefit to the environment as a whole.

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Kelly Mc
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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by Kelly Mc » August 4th, 2016, 9:35 pm

Perhaps the more watery the habitat, the more generous its potential to right itself with restore measures.

It would be very cool to have some before & after photography on this.

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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by simus343 » August 4th, 2016, 10:14 pm

Much habitat management is also done for economic benefit. I.E. coastal management is often to support migratory birds to produce national, state, and local income as a result of bird watching. Dikes were initially put into coastal management places to increase the amount of available habitat to waterfowl, though not a "single species".

Dikes are still "good-ish", sort of, just over time it has been found that the dikes don't help all waterfowl, or at least they didn't, because they were not raising and draining them as they should for grasses and for different species of waterfowl. Other waterbirds also suffered from the alteration of coastal hydrology, as well as the diking over coastal areas really messed up the flow of nutrients and the establishment of coastal grasses and sea grasses. Some places removed dikes because they could do so and a recovery would happen naturally, other places did so and had to assist and are assisting recovery, other places still had assessed the outcome of doing so, and found that the result would mess up the local ecosystem more so than it had been. Proper dike management of remaining ones has fortunately improved over the years, yet it still causes issues with animals that people are all too ready to overlook such as estuarine fish species such as mullet, flounder and red fish. Long story short, by attempting to improve habitat for waterfowl, the people trying to save them nearly messed up coastal ecosystems pretty "good".

The dikes actually in my experience are great for herps, yet to answer the question of "is it a good thing", as it isn't restoring, and the dikes are still messing up natural nutrient flow and coastal development, dikes are not worth putting in for herps (nor worth putting in anymore regardless as we now understand more of the consequences of dike development).

I will say, from my personal experiences though, sometimes single species management has no real drawbacks. From working with Gopher Tortoises, clearing dense slash and sand pine plantations, re-planting longleaf, wiregrass and various other native ground cover species, as well as reintroducing the Gopher Tortoise simply improves what was once "lost". I can't really think of any species native to the longleaf-wiregrass ecosystem that doesn't benefit from restoring Gopher Tortoises and their habitat. By restoring the habitat for the Gopher Tortoise, we also restore the habitat for every other native species of animal.

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Sam Sweet
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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by Sam Sweet » August 5th, 2016, 7:59 am

I agree that restoration is a mixed bag, and that many expensive projects fail because of lack of knowledge about the biology of the affected species, or shoddy implementation.

Here’s what might be a simple, recent case.
In sampling for newt larvae at a retired trout hatchery late last month, we used a ski net to sample a 90x60’ concrete pond 6’ deep.

Image

A single 60’ pass brought up at least 200 3.5-4” long Rana draytonii tadpoles, all with hind legs and some with one foreleg showing. The pond has no vegetation and it’s normal from redleg tadpoles to stay deep at least in daytime. Extrapolating is probably justified, and if so, there were many thousands of larvae 2 weeks or so from metamorphosis in this basin, but a look around showed a really obvious problem.

Image.

Image .

The shoreline of this pond is as barren as a creationist’s cortex -- sloping nicely, but nothing but concrete and water. While we were there two pairs of green herons were working the other five ponds to feed hungry nestlings somewhere downslope, and the landowner said that blue herons often showed up around sunset. Clearly this was not going to turn out well for redleg recruitment. I recalled that the landowner had complained previously that one of the upper, shallower ponds was choked with cattails and sedges, so I asked him if he’d mind a transplant operation. “Not at all, go for it.”

I made the necessary check-in with USFWS since my redleg permit includes almost everything except restoration, and got word that as long as no tadpoles or frogs were disturbed, it could proceed. A message went out to members of the Central Coast chapter of The Wildlife Society, and a day and a half later we had 10 hard workers and me on site with shovels and saws and wheelbarrows.

The small pond gave up most of its cattail mat/

Image,

quite easily because the roots rested on the concrete bottom, and large squares were easily cut up with a pruning saw. These got transported to the lower pond and arranged along the shores having the lowest skyline as seen from the pond (that’s what larval amphibians usually look for in fixing to leave a pond). After a while things looked different, with rootmats extending from shore out about 3-4 feet

Image

Image.

The present leaves aren’t standing up very well, but new growth will fill in in a hurry. We left the donor pond with a viable shoreline as well /

Image.

It all took 11 people about 4 hours, including cleanup.

I’d argue for “restoration” or enhancement projects like this having some value. The deep, fishless pond was clearly great for redleg breeding and larval development, but not-so-hot for metamorphosis and early juvenile life. Fairly soon the young will leave the pond and get into a wooded canyon nearby that offers passage to a large drainage system, but there was a real hiccup in vulnerability to predation at metamorphosis.

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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by ChadHarrison » August 5th, 2016, 12:39 pm

I'm sure this has already been mentioned in previous posts, but I was too lazy to read everything.

More often than not, habitat restoration largely consists of the eradication of invasive/non-native invasive flora or fauna. Mostly flora. I'm pretty sure I know the project you're talking about. The main focus is the clearing of Cedar trees. Cedar trees are problematic as they're one of very few trees that can flourish in open areas where the bedrock is very close to the surface, or even exposed, creating outcrops and exposed rock. These glade ecosystems are very sensitive to the presence of cedar trees. A few here and there can often be a good thing. But the cedars can take over, and ruin this ecosystem. This blocks sun exposure from hibernacula, changes the chemistry and physical character of the soil, and chokes out the prairie grasses, forbs, and wildflowers that exist only in that Glade ecosystem.

Regular controlled burning is a big factor in keeping this from happening. But when that can't happen, clearing cedars is the next best thing. When these glades are suffocated by Cedars, it affects the entire ecosystem, not just the Timbers.

I have been to that restoration site. It was the first visit since a lot of the trees were removed. Even though it was just started early this year, the snakes are already utilizing areas where, in 20 years they've never been observed. I would suspect that this sort of thing will be consistent, not just with timbers, but with other typical glade/rocky deciduous hillside residents.

If the quality of habitat is being increased through restoration with a specific threatened organism as motive, the very reason that this organism benefits from the restoration is often due to the resulting benefit to the other crucial members of the ecosystem. It's sort of in the definition of habitat restoration. I would argue that the only things negatively impacted by true habitat restoration are the unwelcome invasives.

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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by stlouisdude » August 5th, 2016, 3:15 pm

Habitat modification in MO has been very successful (as far as I can determine) for reptiles. I can verify many species absolutely use the open areas more than shaded areas. The primary change being removal of cedars and other larger trees shading rock outcrops. I have turned rocks til blue in the face and found mostly salamanders in shaded areas, but in much of spring and fall, the open areas are loaded with snakes. It does not taper off after a certain amount of open area either. Where large expanses have been opened, there are simply hundreds of snakes to find, where small expanses are cleared, there may be only 1 or 2 specimens observed. Furthermore, it was shown (sorry no reference handy) that collard lizards would not cross heavily shaded land for even small distances to newly opened glades, which also leads me to believe bigger is better in terms of undoing the decades of fire suppression. As far as the timber rattlesnakes go, they can den in shaded areas in MO but I find the spend extensive time in tall weeds and open, rock outcrops, so I think common sense would dictate those areas are important to them. Obviously these open areas are not helpful to salamanders though I do occasionally find a ringed salamander in an open rocky area I suspect they are vagrants. As far a specific target species, yes where they turned collard lizard loose many years ago they can still be found today and shall be unless no one goes out and clears the cedars that will eventually fill back in. I've found young ones so I know breeding has been taking place succesfully.

There is one place I used to look for reptiles that used to be a waste area, I think maybe nuclear, lots of herps there, too, but I think it was likely connected to existing habitat. I have no experience with taking say a piece of urban land and trying to restore that. I suspect it would not be a very fruitful exercise.

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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by mfb » August 6th, 2016, 4:59 pm

Hi Jonathan, thanks for starting a very interesting thread.

I have been involved in varying degrees with a number of wetland creation / restoration projects in the midwestern US. In general, these have been successful. Amphibians populations were either introduced or naturally colonized the ponds, and the populations have continued to do well over many years.

Kelly has a good point about involving broad expertise. For one of the projects I am involved in, a number of folks collaborated to determine the best site for the created wetlands. The wetlands had to have appropriate depth profile for vernal-pool breeding amphibians, and needed to be located so that it wouldn't kill any of the mature trees in the area. Those wetlands (and the amphibians and invertebrates around them) have been doing great over the last six years.

I'm also familiar with major invasive plant removal projects that are going on at one of my former field sites. The invasive plants have shaded out many turtle nesting sites. I think there is a good chance the invasive plant removal efforts will improve the turtles' nesting success.

My answers to your questions would be very context-dependent. For example, I might support an introduction of animals in an isolated habitat patch, but not in a continuous forest. My preference is to go to for the minimal amount of transplantation of animals as possible, for three main reasons: 1) introduction of disease from transplanted animals, 2) mal-adapted genotypes from transplanted animals, 3) negative effects of transplanted animals on animals already living there. A very interesting debate about animal translocation was whether the Isle Royale wolves should be re-introduced/ population supplemented: http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/04/ ... ale-wolves

Which species have habitat increased? Are the species doing poorly due to anthropogenic effects, and in danger over many parts of their range? Then prioritize those species / areas for habitat restoration.

One additional thing to consider is taking date on the effect of the restoration effort. For many species, we don't have good date on the best habitat restoration/protection methods. If possible, doing pre and post monitoring is great. However, even more valuable can be monitoring at multiple restoration sites compared to un-manipulated reference sites.

Hope this is helpful,

Mike

PS - Sam, thanks for posting those habitat restoration photos and info. Great to see positive stories.

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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by kevin h » August 8th, 2016, 4:56 pm

There's some "habitat restoration" going on in my neighborhood for an actually shit filled pond, and please excuse my language. Even though this pond had about three feet of fecal matter on the bottom of both duck and human it was an amazing turtle site. This place held all the native turtle species and at least three non-native. As of right now the pond has been drained and the turtles out of a home. My friend and I moved as many as we could before the draining but there were so many sliders we focused on the native musk, map, softie, and snapper. I hope that this will turn into a successful restoration story as long as the city government follows through with its plans, (something that it is famous for not doing) I think it will be. I looked over the end result plan before they started and it should be a lot better than the crap hole these guys were living in before. It's just a matter for the turtles and snakes to move back which I will help to do. Very interesting topic by the way, thanks for starting this.

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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by jonathan » August 8th, 2016, 6:54 pm

Thanks for the responses! I stayed quiet for a little bit just to take in the discussion.

I want to say that a couple decades back when I was just a little 16-year-old, my Eagle Scout project plan was a "habitat restoration" project. I was going to go to a small local lake, clean up all the trash, build some brush piles, and put up a bunch of bird houses (including wood duck houses) and bat boxes of different sizes and designs. I think that was all the project was supposed to entail. That was as educated as my 16-year-old self was about the whole thing.



I'm a bit surprised that some people think restoration tends to always help everyone. As Bryan Hamiliton pointed out, there will be winners and losers. You flood an area for a wetland, and your moles and voles are going to have trouble using their burrows there anymore. You plant trees for the pine martens, and your vipers might lose their sunning spots. Simus had a good example too.

I think the site I went to in Bangladesh would be the best example of the difficulties in the trade-offs. The entire habitat was only about 34 sq. km, of which maybe 30% is semi-native, semi-mature forest and the other 70% is more disturbed. A lot of species seem to be found only in that small patch of semi-mature forest - we found 25 herp species on the property which were rarely or never seen outside that locale forest. But if you decided to build up the size of that forest in order to give those 25 species the best chance to survive, then you'd be getting rid of some of the more open land around it that provides the best possible habitat on the site for pythons, monitors, lacertas, some agamids, and some of the diurnal snakes. On the other hand, if you leave everything as-is, it's possible that the total area available for each habitat will be too small to support most species in the long run, and you'll lose stuff in both forest and open land.

And "what was there first?" might not be the most relevant question if you only have 34 sq. km total to work with in a landscape that once spanned 1000s of sq. km...maybe the most important question isn't what was there first in your particular area, but what kind of habitat is most imperiled in the broader area. Maybe.



One of the common themes in the responses seems to be that creating open space is generally good for North American herps, and perhaps North American wildlife in general (due to loss of natural fire patterns). So how does clearcutting fit into that idea? I know that some controlled amount of clearcutting is great for the deer and the reptiles, but there's plenty of other species for which it might not be that favorable. Is there a certain amount of clear-cutting that's "too much", and a certainly amount that should be encouraged?


Kelly Mc wrote:It seems like habitat restoration that encouraged herp life would require much interdisciplinary effort. there would seem to be subtleties that could possibly be addressed by geologists for example, that could inadvertently be a positive, without a knowledge of herps per say, and that herp focused restorers might not include.
Yeah, I think this is a very important factor.

Herpers know the subtleties of the impacts on herps. Projects in the LA area to bulldoze up all the non-native grassland and replace it with native vegetation raised the ire of some herpers there, because those grasslands were fantastic habitats for certain snakes, hundreds of which were probably killed in the bulldozing. A wetlands restoration project focused on birds that utilized the wetlands ignored the fact that the area just surrounded those wetlands was one of the best snake habitats in that portion of Los Angeles, and seems to have almost completely destroyed that habitat (again likely killing many snakes in the process) in the name of a "better wetland for birds".

Now, maybe overall those are good projects anyway, maybe they're not. But the herpers were able to provide a prospective that non-herpers didn't have, and my guess is that the birders, buggers, plant people, mammal people, mushroom people, etc. will have a perspective that herpers won't have.


Antonsrkn wrote:Interesting question. Just a few thoughts from me here. I guess I'm a purist... Which species was found there before the habitat changed? What changed the habitat, human influence? I'd strive to restore the habitat to whatever it was before people modified it directly or indirectly.
What about the broader picture? Like, maybe Sam's trout fishery ponds weren't even there before...but if you destroyed the ponds, you might be really reducing the breeding pools in the area, because other spots were destroyed already. It's quite common in the name of "habitat restoration" to create wetlands in places that weren't previously wetlands. Not sure what the right idea is.

There's also the issue of change. Forest goes through succession patterns...which stage do you restore to? Maybe it was a forest, maybe it was a meadow, maybe it was either/or depending on how recent the latest burn was.

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jonathan
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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by jonathan » August 8th, 2016, 6:55 pm

Here are some of the examples that have been given:

* Burning woody plant cover in wetlands to help eastern massassaugas also helped other herps

* Ending grazing and doing some restoration at isolated springs helped Columbia Spotted Frogs and Relict Leopard Frogs

* Removing non-native vegetation from the middle Rio Grande valley riparian forest might have negatively impacted western diamondbacks and a few other species that liked the over-crowded salt cedar, but generally made the habitat closer to what it was before.

* Restoring eroded streambeds and malfunctioning stormwater control projects was great for frogs and water snakes

* Removing invasive plants to improve Bog Turtle habitat is good

* Clearing dense slash and sand pine plantations and replanting natives was good for Gopher Tortoises and probably other species

* Adding cattails to a barren pond probably helped California Red-legged Frog recruitment

* Removing cedar trees from glades was good for Timber Rattlesnake and many other species

* Wetlands creation/restoration projects in the midwest were very good for amphibians

* Invasive plant removal was very good for turtle nesting sites

* Breaking up caliche roads/drill pads to restore Sanddune Lizard habitat was useless, for the caliche simply re-compacted once it rained

* Dikes were put in to improve waterfowl habitat, but it was found that they didn't help all waterfowl species and disturbed the flow of nutrients in the area in such a way that hurt certain plants, fish, and other birds. Reptiles were benefited though.

* Adding more open areas in forest for snakes in Missouri was very beneficial for snakes and probably collarded lizards, though less so for salamanders

* Restoration of a shit-filled city pond that a lot of turtles and snakes had already been living in




A few others I know myself:

* Building a gate in a mountain stream to block the movement of invasive trout, then removing all trout upstream from the block to improve Southern Mountain Yellow-legged Frog populations.

* Completely rooting out all the grasses/iceplant on coastal hills in SoCal and replanting with native vegetation for butterflies and certain birds.

* Removing dams for salmon runs and other animals

* Periodic clearing/poisoning/burning of longleaf pine forests in the southeast to mimic the successional changes that regular fires used to account for.




Any others which are significantly different from the ones described? I'm especially interested in habitat restoration ideas that could be done on a small scale, like on a single person's private property.

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Sam Sweet
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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by Sam Sweet » August 8th, 2016, 10:15 pm

Here's a quick one that makes use of differences in species mating and dispersal patterns. In southern California creeks and rivers Arroyo toads breed when water temperature reaches about 15 C (so from Feb-March at low elevations, to early June at 3500 ft). Males select shallow edges of pools that are part of the flowing creek (not cut off) and call facing the most open shoreline available, from water 2" deep or so. Individual males use the same sites many nights in a row (until creek conditions change), and females lay their eggs at the male's calling site (very unusual among toads).

Many of these breeding pools have deep water (> 4') at the other bank, with dense willows or other cover, and there will be one or more resident bullfrogs. It doesn't take long for them to come across the pool and eat all the Arroyo toads. However, adult bullfrogs rarely move early in the season (before they begin to breed), and one or two nighttime strolls up the stream with a pellet rifle early in local toad breeding season can take out nearly all the problem frogs. In my experience you can leave bullfrogs in pools quite close to those used by toads, and the frogs won't move until after toads are done breeding. Now why you'd want to leave a bullfrog is a mystery, but sometimes you just can't get the last couple. Turns out it may not matter in that breeding season if you make a serious effort to take out those bullfrogs that are actually in toad breeding pools.

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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by Jimi » August 9th, 2016, 4:14 pm

Interesting question, not at all simple. Despite - or perhaps due to - the fact that "habitat restoration" is a lot of my job these days, I think that "restoration" is a loaded word, and almost as slippery as the word "habitat". Put them together and you've got a term that's, I dunno, something like the stuff a hagfish exudes. Messy and not very useful. But it gets attention.

Accepting the facts that 1) to do something - anything - creates winners and losers, and (this is more subtle but just as - maybe MORE - important) that 2) doing nothing accepts the status quo winners and losers, is an important step in maturity and honesty, I believe. For both practitioners and observers - and especially critics.

After that, for practitioners it's mainly a matter of 1) making your case for why you want to advantage the current losers, and how your disadvantaging the current winners isn't the end of their world, and then 2) hoping for fair treatment at the hands of those who decide permissions, funding, press coverage, social media content, etc etc. It takes brass balls and a tough hide.

Journal of Wildlife Management had some interesting herp-habitat restoration papers in the last 2 issues:

Specialist and generalist amphibians respond to wetland restoration treatments
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1 ... 21091/full

Manipulation of basking sites for endangered eastern massasauga rattlesnakes
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1 ... 21079/full

Also in the most recent issue was a pretty compelling paper on "restoration" in Tennessee, in former oak woodland and oak savanna "habitats":

Avian occupancy response to oak woodland and savanna restoration
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1 ... 7/abstract

The latter described something like a Goldilocks effect, of finding a place between "too hot" and "too cold". Interesting system, I wonder if the lessons could translate beyond those systems and taxa. Probably so, in e.g. the biophysical and seral ecotones between grasslands, shrublands, and forests of the west.

Thanks Jonathan, and Sam too - loved that pond example. Nice case of advantaging some current losers, and vice versa. And so simple - so clearly "a good thing".

cheers

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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by VanAR » August 9th, 2016, 6:02 pm

Another wrinkle to consider to the winners/losers debate is the long-term sustainability of the restoration with respect to 1) human effort and 2) human perception

1) Human effort is the amount of money, hours, people, etc. that need to be expended in maintaining the restored habitat, per time. An example of this could be invasive species management. Here in Australia, we deal with this all the time, as foxes destroy a vast majority of freshwater turtle nests. We can't eradicate foxes in so large an area, and even minor control efforts seem to be less than productive. So for it to work, fox management needs to be a massive, sustained effort. That kind of effort is largely infeasible, and it leads into uncomfortable questions regarding cost/benefit. Once humans are incapable (or unwilling) to sustain such an effort, we're right back to square one, within a pretty short period.

This leads into #2
2) Human perception is what I call the broad public idea that such restoration/management is necessary. This is not a static thing, and is subject to all kinds of sociopolitical issues. Even assuming a static geopolitical system, you still have to deal with funding shortfalls and cost/benefit scenarios in the best of cases. Going a step farther, what happens in the case of a major geopolitical incident- warm, famine, disease epidemic, climate change/sea level, etc.? These are all factors that could seriously affect the amount of effort humans are capable or willing to invest in that restoration. If continued management efforts are necessary to sustain the restoration, at what point do we decide it is impractical? On an evolutionary timescale, the restoration needs to be self-sustaining without human management. In my mind, too many restoration and even conservation projects consider this, but it needs to be part of the conversation, especially since the world currently seems to be moving back toward a period where sustained conflict might be more the norm than our recent history of Pax Americana.

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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by jonathan » August 9th, 2016, 7:49 pm

Jimi wrote:Accepting the facts that 1) to do something - anything - creates winners and losers, and (this is more subtle but just as - maybe MORE - important) that 2) doing nothing accepts the status quo winners and losers, is an important step in maturity and honesty, I believe. For both practitioners and observers - and especially critics.
Yeah, I thought it was important to start out that way.



Jimi wrote:After that, for practitioners it's mainly a matter of 1) making your case for why you want to advantage the current losers, and how your disadvantaging the current winners isn't the end of their world, and then 2) hoping for fair treatment at the hands of those who decide permissions, funding, press coverage, social media content, etc etc. It takes brass balls and a tough hide.
Thankfully, I'm thinking of this on a small scale - like what kinds of things are possible to do on private property that you own or that someone has welcomed you onto. So the leeway is greater...but that's why I'd like it to be done right.

Thanks for the additional examples!



VanAR wrote:Another wrinkle to consider to the winners/losers debate is the long-term sustainability of the restoration with respect to 1) human effort and 2) human perception

1) Human effort is the amount of money, hours, people, etc. that need to be expended in maintaining the restored habitat, per time.
Yeah, I think that's a bigger issue than some people realize. When I've seen an ENORMOUS effort go into the management of certain endangered species whose overall numbers will never be especially large, I begin to wonder whether the negative environmental impact (tens of millions of dollars poured into resources, energy expenditure, etc.) and use of human resources (hundreds of people who care about the environment putting all their time and energy into that one species rather than something else), I begin to wonder whether the efforts might be doing the environment more harm than good. Possible examples here, not at all certain - say, California Condors or Whooping Cranes.

On a much smaller scale, like I'm thinking about here, it's more with the question you asked - is the work you do going to matter if you drop it after a year? Will the bullfrogs just all come back?

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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by Jimi » August 10th, 2016, 2:52 pm

An example of this could be invasive species management. Here in Australia, we deal with this all the time, as foxes destroy a vast majority of freshwater turtle nests. We can't eradicate foxes in so large an area, and even minor control efforts seem to be less than productive. So for it to work, fox management needs to be a massive, sustained effort.
The good thing about turtles, generally speaking, is they have great adult survival. So the life history stages to focus on are the ones from egg-laying to "survivable subadult". When I was in FL we had a similar depredation problem on some sea turtle nesting beaches, on a couple of sizeable state parks abutting heavily-populated areas. The nest predators were native raccoons - horribly numerous, grossly-subsized raccoons. We hired USDA-Wildlife Services to night-snipe them (night vision goggles, suppressed 22-cal rifles, covert in- & exfiltration by the agent so we didn't kick up a shitstorm of animal-rights protests). We only hired him for a month or so before the turtles arrived, for I think 3 years in a row. Nest success ("did we get at least 1 hatchling emerge from that nest?") those years went from <5% to >95%. The dude was a killer. And cheap, something like $4,000 a month. Anyway, we figured with adult recruitment being something like 1-2% after emergence, and most nests having great hatching percentages, we got about one (future) adult, per nest, per year, for our money. Maybe $50-75 apiece for a couple hundred adult sea turtles.

Worth it? Hell yeah. And the (we assumed) increased recruitment of gopher tortoises, box turtles, and diamond-backed terrapins in the state parks was gravy. Possibly (see below re: campground garbage) the 'coons are thick as ever once again, but we created a good recruitment pulse. Doing that every few years will buy some time for precarious populations. Silver buckshot, not slugs. Not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Currently, in a vastly different environment, we have a sage-grouse management area that's got a negative lambda (weird, because literally every single other one in the state is way up this year). We think (we haven't done "serious research", for various good reasons, but we think, also for various good reasons) that invasive red foxes are the culprits. This winter we hired USDA-WS to trap foxes intensely for about a month, in a small region (few miles radius) around the nesting complex. Just like in FL, it was cheap and a very simple contract. We've got a bunch of radioed adult hen grouse and are monitoring their survival as well as their nesting effort and brood survival. So far, things are looking great this year! We plan to trap foxes again next year and keep monitoring hens, nests, and broods. Time will tell.

Neither of these examples was massive, sustained, or pursuing an eradication strategy. Just suppressing the invasive or native predators a bit, precisely targeted in time and space. Might something like that be possible in Oz? Surely they've got some good killers, ones who really, really know their quarry.

I understand the point about "massive & sustained" - strategic action is often also helpful, if not necessary. For example we (FWC) leaned HARD on FL state parks to get their campground garbage under control so the 'coons couldn't eat it and pump out more babies. And we're (UDWR) quietly trying to get ranchers to shoot fewer coyotes in this area, because coyotes are the cheapest, best, 24/7/365 fox killers available. But that's the long game, and there are still some very helpful things we can do right now. I don't know anything about fox management in Oz, but I do understand predator mgt a bit. I also know Oz has got some top-shelf wildlife managers, and I suspect there is just the same as here - academics and managers might not work together as well as they could. Here's a book you might already know, that I'm enjoying immensely (and that might apply somewhat to your fox example):

http://www.publish.csiro.au/pid/7357.htm
what kinds of things are possible to do on private property that you own or that someone has welcomed you onto
Oh man, all kinds of cool things are legally possible. Some are expensive, some are technically challenging, and some offer the chance to make a big mess. Most of those require a permit, the point of which is to reduce the odds of a big mess happening. In the US, I'd say the best thing to do - my recommendation - would be to first call your local state fish and game office, and ask if they have any private landowner habitat biologists to talk with. Take it from there - very often you can get free technical assistance (with ideas, designs, permits, etc). Very often there is a cost-share program (or three) available too, where - if you qualify - someone will help you pay for it.

cheers

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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by Jimi » August 10th, 2016, 3:42 pm

I just remembered this great post, which has some aspects of improving turtle recruitment:

http://www.fieldherpforum.com/forum/vie ... =7&t=23635

cheers,
Jimi

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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by VanAR » August 10th, 2016, 6:12 pm

Yeah, we're doing all kinds of work like that. The trouble we have is that it only takes 1 fox to decimate a nesting area. We've had a single fox take out 15 nests in a 5 hour period in a single night! Most of the eggs get cached, but even if the fox consumes those eggs before attacking more nests we estimate that each fox can easily take out 100 nests in a single nesting season. In the broad scheme of things that might not sound like much, but every indication we have is that this is a consistent pattern across almost the entire landscape of the Murray-Darling catchment. Some wetlands have zero hatchlings/juveniles for years at a time, and even though turtle management IS governed by protecting adults, the recruitment in these systems is so low that we're starting to see the beginning of adult decline due to attrition without sufficient replacement. One paper has even reported 60-90% declines in some populations, with virtually nil recruitment for several decades. Unfortunately, the system isn't particularly well studied, so there are a number of potential contributing factors in addition to foxes, but they seem to be the main factor. If you can protect or headstart enough nests, you rapidly see boosts in recruitment and juvenile demographics, potentially for 10+ years in the one long-term study that's been done. Headstarting looks like the most effective approach, so we're designing some landscape scale plans now.

Part of the problem is also the legal system. The sniper approach you mention simply isn't legal here. Even the poison baiting system they allow isn't really that effective. There also isn't nearly as much funding for management as there is in the states, probably because hunting and fishing are so rare in comparison.

But, all of this still rests on the assumption that we need significant human effort to keep foxes at bay. Once we're gone or can't achieve that (and fox eradication is extremely unlikely in the interim), what then?

From another perspective, by providing an artificial selection environment via headstarting, are we actually maintaining a genotype/phenotype that is unfit in the "real world"? Once that artificial nest environment is gone, the phenotype that is successful in headstarting suddenly gets thrust back into a high-predation environment, which means it is likely to be selected against rapidly in subsequent generations. How do we promote a fox-resistant phenotype that is able to avoid fox depredation on its own? That might be necessary for turtles to survive past our ability to protect them. Fish hatcheries have the same issue- the relatively labile selective environment in hatcheries has been shown to result in a massive change even at the genotype level within 2-3 generations in some salmonids. The relative lack of selection just allows a wider diversity of genotypes to survive than would normally occur in the wild, and the vast majority of their resulting phenotypes probably just don't live very long after release, or in subsequent generations.

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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by Jimi » August 11th, 2016, 9:23 am

The sniper approach you mention simply isn't legal here. Even the poison baiting system they allow isn't really that effective. There also isn't nearly as much funding for management as there is in the states, probably because hunting and fishing are so rare in comparison.
Is there no government agency there that handles "problem wildlife"? Besides the station managers and other affected private individuals, who e.g., controls dingoes that kill sheep, native and invasive birds that excessively damage crops, crocs that eat people, etc? Here, the go-to guys are federal agents, employees of USDA Wildlife Services. They have to follow the various laws in the places they work. While the agency does have a "hard-money" base budget appropriated by Congress every year, they mainly operate on (most of their revenues derive from) a contractual, fee-for-services basis. Surely the fed or state govts there - at least the heavily-ag ones - have such a crew?

It's been a mutual learning and trust-building experience, and WS is still basically in the ag-protection business, but wildlife-conservation agencies and NGOs have increasingly employed them for help with specific nuisance wildlife issues. They are experts, they are relatively inexpensive to hire, and - putting those factors together - they are typically the most efficient option by a long shot. Ha ha, no pun intended. Anyway, do it yourself with students, volunteers, or even wildlife professionals with other skillsets is not often very cost- or outcomes-effective.
The trouble we have is that it only takes 1 fox to decimate a nesting area.
We have a lot of similar instances here, whether it's affecting colonial wildlife or aggregating livestock. The curious thing is, typically the "offensive behavior" is not exhibited by all animals in a population - there's one or two who have learned it. They can teach others - their kids for example - but if you can target them individually often that is very effective. Sometimes indiscriminate control is actually counterproductive - we occasionally see for example that it is better to retain territorial coyotes that don't exhibit problematic behavior, than it is to remove them and take our chances with whoever comes and replaces them. Animals are fascinatingly individualistic. It can be frustrating but it can also be used against them when necessary.
From another perspective, by providing an artificial selection environment via headstarting, are we actually maintaining a genotype/phenotype that is unfit in the "real world"? Once that artificial nest environment is gone, the phenotype that is successful in headstarting suddenly gets thrust back into a high-predation environment, which means it is likely to be selected against rapidly in subsequent generations. How do we promote a fox-resistant phenotype that is able to avoid fox depredation on its own?
It sounds to me like this is a demographic-rescue emergency, and worrying (speculating...) too much about genetics might be taking our eyes off the ball. I'm familiar with the industrial-scale fish hatchery phenomenon. For the most part, the US states have learned that lesson and the hatcheries operate on much more of a "small-batch" basis with a lot of attention paid to retaining wild, not domesticated, traits. There's a lot less mega fish-farming that obsesses on meat at the expense of genes, and a lot more restoration of depleted or extirpated unique local genotypes.

Also, my impression (never done it myself...) is that captive survival from egg to release is much higher in turtle headstarting, than it is in fish-culture operations. In such a case there's little or no imposition of human selection when there's survival of everybody, not just the "fittest for the hatchery lifestyle". Care can be taken with turtle "education", so they don't learn dumb stuff.

You also mentioned nest protection. I'm curious about the Aus experiences with that. "Zone" or "man" defense, etc. Physical barriers, behavioral exclusion, etc?

Finally, I'll just observe that - to me - it really feels like we're presently entering a brave new world of - I don't know what else to call it - in situ zookeeping. With the omnipresent human footprint, and how much we're willing to leave for nature, and also how much we've affected nature's own operations - I just don't know how realistic it is to hope for long-term, hands-off solutions to a lot of conservation problems. Some might shriek "self-created job security for dishonest government wankers!!!" But for those of us entrusted with ensuring the perpetual viability of all native wildlife, it's a sickening epiphany that we accept without gleeful anticipation.

Chin up, mate

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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by VanAR » August 11th, 2016, 4:03 pm

Is there no government agency there that handles "problem wildlife"? Besides the station managers and other affected private individuals, who e.g., controls dingoes that kill sheep, native and invasive birds that excessively damage crops, crocs that eat people, etc? Here, the go-to guys are federal agents, employees of USDA Wildlife Services. They have to follow the various laws in the places they work. While the agency does have a "hard-money" base budget appropriated by Congress every year, they mainly operate on (most of their revenues derive from) a contractual, fee-for-services basis. Surely the fed or state govts there - at least the heavily-ag ones - have such a crew?
No- there may be some for dingos, and they do regulate kangaroos a bit this way (directly to supermarket meat), but there is no nationwide agency that does this. Even at the state level, national parks staff, catchment management authorities, etc. all do their own invasive species management, so it's a hodgepodge. The other problem is that most of the country is so remote that even if you do eradicate invasive predators from an area, new individuals filter right back in almost immediately- this has been shown with both foxes and cats. Local populations are subsidized by both humans and more remote areas- the human-associate populations are subsidized by lambs, cats, etc., while the remote populations are subsidized by rabbits (another invasive). Heck, Australia doesn't even have a federal wildlife service, and even their state-level fish and game law enforcement basically amounts to ~20 people per state. Where we work it's basically nonexistent except during a brief duck hunting season.
We have a lot of similar instances here, whether it's affecting colonial wildlife or aggregating livestock. The curious thing is, typically the "offensive behavior" is not exhibited by all animals in a population - there's one or two who have learned it. They can teach others - their kids for example - but if you can target them individually often that is very effective. Sometimes indiscriminate control is actually counterproductive - we occasionally see for example that it is better to retain territorial coyotes that don't exhibit problematic behavior, than it is to remove them and take our chances with whoever comes and replaces them. Animals are fascinatingly individualistic. It can be frustrating but it can also be used against them when necessary.
We have some evidence of this, but it also looks like that behavior is very widespread in areas with turtles. Maybe not all foxes target nests, but enough do it, and each has enough of an impact on its own, that even if you do remove some of the "problem" individuals others are right nearby. The big difference I think here is that the turtles exhibit few instinctive behaviors for avoiding nest predation- it might not have been that high historically with native predators, and foxes have only been around for maybe 3 or 4 full generations for these species. Most of Australia is also a fairly "harsh" environment by fox standards, and I think there's potentially high selective advantage on them to use such an easy, widely available resource.
It sounds to me like this is a demographic-rescue emergency, and worrying (speculating...) too much about genetics might be taking our eyes off the ball.
Possibly, but if we can't get rid of foxes or "adjust" turtle behavior to accommodate them, then we're just delaying the inevitable. Alternatively, if we continue down this path, turtle populations could drop so low that nests become an inviable resource for foxes. The question if that happens is whether the resulting population is sustainable.
Also, my impression (never done it myself...) is that captive survival from egg to release is much higher in turtle headstarting, than it is in fish-culture operations. In such a case there's little or no imposition of human selection when there's survival of everybody, not just the "fittest for the hatchery lifestyle". Care can be taken with turtle "education", so they don't learn dumb stuff.
My point is that in an environment where nest depredation exceeds 95%, there is going to be very strong natural selection on nesting behavior of the adults. If we do too much headstarting do we risk diluting that selective effect, such that when we reach a point where management is impossible, the species then goes extinct?
You also mentioned nest protection. I'm curious about the Aus experiences with that. "Zone" or "man" defense, etc. Physical barriers, behavioral exclusion, etc?
It's not been done at a landscape level except in small doses that are cheap enough for one-off tests but too expensive for long-term sustainability. Mostly it's volunteer work setting up little fences over individual nests, like you see on some sea turtle beaches. We're trying to find effective methods that are inexpensive enough for the small agencies and local councils to perform on their own- it needs to be in the range of $10K per year for a 1000-hectare area, give or take, for it to be feasible with the agencies involved.
Finally, I'll just observe that - to me - it really feels like we're presently entering a brave new world of - I don't know what else to call it - in situ zookeeping. With the omnipresent human footprint, and how much we're willing to leave for nature, and also how much we've affected nature's own operations - I just don't know how realistic it is to hope for long-term, hands-off solutions to a lot of conservation problems. Some might shriek "self-created job security for dishonest government wankers!!!" But for those of us entrusted with ensuring the perpetual viability of all native wildlife, it's a sickening epiphany that we accept without gleeful anticipation.
I guess that is just my point- this model of conservation isn't perpetually sustainable. It's only sustainable as long as there is money and manpower available to do it. What happens when we do reach a point where one or both are unavailable, as in the case of a famine, epidemic, world conflict, etc.? None of those are off the table in terms of likelihood. In some cases it probably will work- harvest restrictions in place now keep a species extant until demand is zero (for whatever reason), and then some species can recover quite easily. But in cases where the species is threatened outside of our immediate control, by a non-eradicatable invasive species for example, how do we ensure the species survival past our own? If we can't, how does that idea get incorporated into our idea of triage?

This probably sounds overly pessimistic and fatalistic, and maybe it is, but I think history shows that humanity is anything but static. I don't think we can just assume that there will always be resources available for the kind of "in situ zoo" approach you advocate. At this point in time, my concerns are mostly academic, but what happens if/when they become real?

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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by Jimi » August 12th, 2016, 11:06 am

I don't think we can just assume that there will always be resources available
Over the course of my career I have struggled with keeping positive - with making staying in this career personally sustainable (putting aside money, which has already been traded off). What works for me is the attitude "This is neither a sprint nor a marathon, it is a long-distance relay. If I can take the dirty baton, clean it up as much as I can, then hand it off in good shape to the next guy - I have done my best which is all I can do."
Possibly, but if we can't get rid of foxes or "adjust" turtle behavior to accommodate them, then we're just delaying the inevitable. Alternatively, if we continue down this path, turtle populations could drop so low that nests become an inviable resource for foxes. The question if that happens is whether the resulting population is sustainable.
I think foxes will eat eggs anytime they find them. So I don't accept the alternative sentence. I also don't accept "inevitable". See above. We never know what might be developed, or appear, in the future. Some fox virus or whatever. Some sterilizing venereal disease. Who knows. Look, my death is inevitable. But I'm not going to run towards it, right? Put off the inevitable as long as possible, it's all you can do. It's all that is reasonably expectable of you. You have NO CONTROL over the future.
it needs to be in the range of $10K per year for a 1000-hectare area, give or take, for it to be feasible with the agencies involved.
What's that, like $1K a mile of fence? Ouch. I'm assuming a full-perimeter fence job, and then clear the interior. For free. Ha ha. I don't see how those numbers work. Ungulate exclusion fencing here is 5-10x that much (we struggle a lot with small-patch aspen regeneration and elk & cattle herbivory; larger areas "swamp the predators"). Foxes are probably as hard to fence as elk.
At this point in time, my concerns are mostly academic, but what happens if/when they become real?
They don't have to become real. People seriously LOVE WILDLIFE. Including turtles. This is far from a simply technical exercise. You need help from zoos, community organizers, multiple levels of government, various academic disciplines - sociology, marketing etc. And a serious strategy. I dunno, it sounds kind of cool. God's work. You're lucky to be involved in something worthwhile - even if it hurts like a bitch. I know how that feels, man.

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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by VanAR » August 17th, 2016, 4:23 pm

Thanks Jimi- it's a growing field and an uphill battle. One good thing on our side is that freshwater turtles are major totem animals for many of the local Aboriginal nations. That brings a big social bonus to any work we do, and while the Australian government still isn't doing many Aborigines any favors, they'll trip over themselves to "look" like they're helping out.

Amazingly, what we know about turtles in Australia is next to nil- they just never attracted the research interest like turtles in the USA, even though they are just as easy to work with. They're a wide-open field, both in terms of conservation work and basic research.

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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by Jeroen Speybroeck » August 17th, 2016, 10:37 pm

This has been a very interesting thread!
Jimi wrote:I just don't know how realistic it is to hope for long-term, hands-off solutions to a lot of conservation problems.
In my part of the world, as we're at a point where trully natural areas do not exist & the entire country looks more or less like one big city, the portion of in situ zookeeping may very well be among the highest in the world. Without repeated human action to minimally counteract the historically accumulated biodiversity loss, we would loose probably half of our country's herpetofauna, some of which (as pointed out) may even be more widespread and abundant than they were in whatever pristine state golden age. Here, a lot of this boils down to maintaining open spots and maintaining a high degree in patchiness of vegetation and vegetation layers. That "sloppy" approach which favours reptiles and amphibians alike is not embedded in the DNA of most managers, as they'd rather go for uniform, large-scale measures which tend to favour the traditionally more cherished conservation targets, being mammals, birds and plants. It comes to depressing and ridiculous trade-offs at times, like when excellent viper habitat is transformed in a featureless orchid meadow.

A different example. We're at the brink of loosing Pelobates fuscus nationwide. One of its remaining populations lives in an area where you could fairly easily get rid of alien invasive fish species by allowing ponds to dry up in the second half of summer. Yet, management fears bitterns will have lower breeding success without fish, even though we've been explaining to them that in the Evros river delta an entire community of waders, herons, ... feeds on the gigantic tadpoles of the spadefoots.

Luckily, at other points we have had great success with saving species we were about to loose, up to bringing them to huge numbers. A lot has to do with the nature of the species (short-lived species can go quickly, but can also jump back up fast) and seizing every opportunity to get people involved.

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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by Brian Hubbs » August 25th, 2016, 1:09 pm

Sounds a lot like the U.S., except we don't do much to restore herp habitat. Birds get the money and the projects mostly, to the detriment of many herp species. I liked Sam's little frog restoration project. He's a doer, not a talker...but there's so much that could be done to enhance and restore populations of Red-legged frogs and Western Pond Turtles in CA, but almost nobody does anything except talk and pass laws against collecting. Oh, and the state game dept. makes it difficult for the public to even remove non-native species like bullfrogs without a permit. Herp restoration in CA is like a tiny pebble rolling down hill on a grassy slope. It never gets larger...it just stays the same or diminishes. :roll:

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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by lateralis » August 25th, 2016, 2:24 pm

I have a nifty project going right now involving aeolian sand species such as fringe toed lizards and flat tailed horned lizards. Seems to be working and will be long term. I agree with you Brian that things move slow at higher levels but regional multi species plans at the county level appear to be moving in the right direction, and at an accelerated pace.

Cheers

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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by WSTREPS » August 26th, 2016, 10:28 am

If there is no true balance of nature to which we must restore environmental conditions, and if there is no pristine nature untouched by human action, then on what basis should we determine environmental policies?

Entire ecological sub-disciplines, “embrace normative science postulates as the core of their trade, maintaining that biological diversity is inherently good, extinction of populations and species is inherently bad, ecological complexity is inherently good, evolution is good, and biological diversity has intrinsic value.” In reality, “most scientific information is of a fine scale and narrowly focused and thus only indirectly relevant to many ecological policy questions.

(Robert T Lackey)

Most concepts of ecosystem health require a benchmark (i.e., a preferred condition) of an ecosystem. Often, the implicit assumption, or benchmark, is that an undisturbed or natural ecosystem is superior, thus preferred, to an altered one (Anderson 1991).

An ecosystem altered by human influences is obviously different from the previous state, but there is no scientific basis for a specific ecological state to be considered better (more healthy) and thus the benchmark. Lele and Norgaard (1996)
The largest , most expensive environmental restoration project in history. Is the proposed Everglades restoration project. The Everglades is the most polluted national park in the US and probably the world. Its arguably home to more introduced species then any other governmental region on Earth. In addition to being used as a toilet for Miami's metro area (The eighth-most populous and fourth-largest urban area in the US) . It has been drenched in agent orange and supposedly a quarter of all fish, reptiles, birds, and mammals are non native. This along with over 1200 non-native plant species. The 25 yr. Flood Control Project, constructed 1,400 miles of canals and flood control structures in South Florida. So how can this be restored? And why? In spite of all the radical alterations and introduction's the Everglades today, is overflowing with life and has greater biodiversity then at anytime in recorded history. No native species have gone extinct and in fact most are thriving with some of the regions most allegedly endangered species proliferating. Human's can change ecosystem's, they can create and replace habitat's, but they cannot restore them, in the sense that they can reproduce or reconstruct the environment back to the original state as the image of word implies.

Some species benefit from native habitat loss, others are wiped out. Its not so much about habitat restoration as it is about habitat creation. In South Florida when land is cleared for construction, large ponds are dug. You need fill dirt to build and the way to get it here is to dig ponds. These ponds fill with life in no time, everything from fish and frogs, toads to alligators, snakes, turtle's. Bald Eagles, Osprey's, wading birds of all kinds, mammals etc. take full advantage of the new digs. They prefer this new habitat to the surrounding "native" environment. Once settled in. The biggest threat in the urban world for these animals outside of the naturally occurring perils of everyday life, are cars. Snakes due to reputation are always going to be persecuted and some native species indigos, diamondback's struggle or disappear completely in places that do not provide large tracks of uninhabited land. Not necessarily native environment but uninhabited. When snakes such as indigos and diamondbacks are not found in these places. The problem isn't so much because of the changes in the habitats topography but because so much of the regionally core breeding population is destroyed during the land clearing and construction process. When combined with what ever other losses are incurred. The snakes cannot recover to repopulate the area. Factor in the large size of certain species. And this would almost never allow for a successful repopulation in a densely human inhabited situation. Its not that species such as indigos and diamondback's couldn't make a go of it in a radically altered suburban setting if their able to get established, they could and sometimes do. But the high degree of human intervention not the conditions provided by the habitat itself often circumvents the animals survival. You cannot provide some sort of micro environment, a small 10 acre patch of trees with a pond for example for these types of animals and expect them to establish and maintain a long term self sustaining population. In these instance's the specific's of the habitat are not as important as the amount of space the habitat provides.


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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by mfb » August 30th, 2016, 7:41 pm

Very interesting and informative thread to read. Just catching back up on it now. Jimi, your metaphor for conservation work as a long-distance relay really resonated with me.
Jimi wrote:
I don't think we can just assume that there will always be resources available
Over the course of my career I have struggled with keeping positive - with making staying in this career personally sustainable (putting aside money, which has already been traded off). What works for me is the attitude "This is neither a sprint nor a marathon, it is a long-distance relay. If I can take the dirty baton, clean it up as much as I can, then hand it off in good shape to the next guy - I have done my best which is all I can do."

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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by Jimi » August 31st, 2016, 12:36 pm

metaphor...conservation work as a long-distance relay
Glad to hear the concept works for someone. It's easy to get overwhelmed or bummed out by the immensity of the problem, and your own puniness. Conservation is a "forever" thing, and we are mere temporary beings, doing mere temporary things. There comes a point when reality or humility or what-have-you kicks in, and you have to accept that you're not in control of much. But you do have some influence over the shape of things you hand over to the next incumbent, next generation, next owner, whatever.
The largest , most expensive environmental restoration project in history...Everglades restoration. So how can this be restored? And why?
Hydrologically - return flows to a southward direction, instead of the newer east- and west-flowing canals. To counter saltwater intrusion into the aquifer, and thus maintain the human drinking-water supply of S FL. As well to improve estuarine & nearshore habitat conditions - fewer harmful algal blooms etc.
You cannot provide some sort of micro environment, a small 10 acre patch of trees with a pond for example for these types of animals and expect them to establish and maintain a long term self sustaining population. In these instance's the specific's of the habitat are not as important as the amount of space the habitat provides.
Totally agreed. Postage-stamp preserves only work for a tiny fraction of imperiled biota. Unless we're willing to go all-in on what I earlier called "in situ zookeeping". Which is non-sustainable almost by definition.
except we don't do much to restore herp habitat
Much easier on private land. But this blanket statement is a bit unfair. A lot of stuff happens without much horn-blowing. And some is a little sketchy, or would invite a public shit-storm. So it's get 'er done and shut up about it. Whacking feral cats or raccoons or whatever. Or even bullies.
Here, a lot of this boils down to maintaining open spots and maintaining a high degree in patchiness of vegetation and vegetation layers. That "sloppy" approach which favours reptiles and amphibians alike is not embedded in the DNA of most managers, as they'd rather go for uniform, large-scale measures which tend to favour the traditionally more cherished conservation targets, being mammals, birds and plants. It comes to depressing and ridiculous trade-offs at times, like when excellent viper habitat is transformed in a featureless orchid meadow.
Same here actually. Most of the money I'm aware of, and which sometimes I help steer, goes to manipulating vegetation, typically reverting it back to an earlier seral state, but sometimes trying to accelerate natural succession by e.g. thinning young trees so the leave-trees grow faster. But I like to see high amounts of edge - long wiggly treatment polygons instead of big squares or rectangles. Mostly, this is the direction we (partners in the Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative) are going.

cheers

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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by WSTREPS » August 31st, 2016, 5:56 pm

Hydrologically - return flows to a southward direction, instead of the newer east- and west-flowing canals. To counter saltwater intrusion into the aquifer, and thus maintain the human drinking-water supply of S FL. As well to improve estuarine & nearshore habitat conditions - fewer harmful algal blooms etc.
Yeah , so I heard.

One of the major problems is that the project will contaminate the regions drinking water. The people who are trying to rush this project into production are trying to downplay this as much as possible. They are saying the amount of contamination will be indiscernible, as they sip their bottled water. One commissioner sighed she couldn't understand why the public was not more supportive of this project. The answer is simple, everyone's not as stupid as she is. In talking with people who have lived their entire lives in South Florida, nobody thinks the algal blooms are any worse now then they ever were. South Florida is being inundated with new residents. The algal bloom media fearmongering is directed at them. Making them think that these algal blooms are new or worsening. Local politician's love to feed off this. Championing the idea that the tourist will be scared away and local business's will fold, but they will fight to save our beeches' , our business's, our family's. The truth is nothing changes but everything keeps growing. You cant even get to the beeches with all the traffic. The algal blooms occasionally come and go and everything is fine. The only real environmental issue is the rapid land development. The same politician's that are so selflessly trying to save our precious waters from the horrible algal blooms, are full on about developing ever square inch they can.

The Everglades restoration project will not help reptiles at all. Or anything, but it could end up making thing's worse. As of now the everglade's is thriving on all fronts. You cant find a single animal species endemic to the Everglades that is not doing well. Changing is not restoring or improving its changing. If its not broke don't fix it. The everglades is not broke and there is not a shred of tangible evidence to say it is. It is a radically altered environment that has been strongly influenced by the changes that come with human establishment, but it is not a broken eco system in need of improvement or repair. It is a rich environment that if left alone will remain productive and biologically diverse until the sun burns out.

Restoration in this case is all about the political and finical (like so much what takes place in todays PC/BS world) enrichment for various factions. Its a nice pie to split up and lot of people want to make sure they get their piece.

My contention is why tell so many fairy tales if things are so bad and this restoration project so good(rhetorical question)? Because there is nothing legitimate to point to that the everglades demise is eminent or that large scale critical improvement's are necessary for the everglades long term existence as a biologically diverse environment. In fact what can be demonstrated is just the opposite.

The proof is the desperate and distorted information being pumped out about what's taking place. Examples, the claims of massive mammal declines due to the regions hydrology issues. Gee, I thought it was pythons. I listen to one biologist yap about how his panther radio telemetry study proved this. He had graphs and maps to demonstrate how the lone male he was studying was forced to move north. This because there was no longer anything for him to feed on in the south. Naturally this biologist presented no data on what the cat had been feeding on or what it was currently feeding on. But his pleas assured us that if we don't do something quick all the cats will be force to leave or stave. Panthers don't like the natural Glades anyway, they like cattle farms. Another biologist said that there were no more big fish in south Florida, the water was filled with slime that was killing them all off. I don't know how this guy could say that and keep a straight face. Claims of massive declines in our beloved birds (not true) etc. Supposedly the most critically endangered animal in the Everglades region is the Florida panther . Panther populations are clearly much higher then reported, the only ones who are saying the Florida population is unique are the ones that benefit from its unique status(its a common cougar). I've seen more panthers then mud snakes this year (true), maybe we need a restoration project to save the mud snakes.

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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by Jimi » September 1st, 2016, 2:12 pm

As of now the everglade's is thriving on all fronts...The everglades is not broke and there is not a shred of tangible evidence to say it is...it is not a broken eco system in need of improvement or repair...It is a rich environment that if left alone will remain productive and biologically diverse until the sun burns out.
Well, let's just call that a minority opinion. I'm sure the Melaleuca, Hydrilla, Salvinia, and Lygodium would appreciate being left alone. They are indeed very productive.

For anyone still reading this thread, but tired of me & Ernie, here's a recent (Jan 2016) progress report to read about water quality & quantity management in the Everglades:
http://www.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal ... ogress.pdf

and here's a broader regional overview:
http://www.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal ... 20progress

Yes, this restoration initiative is immensely expensive. The current water-management system was expensive and took decades to create, and will take lots of time and money to fix those things that are broken about it (not everything, just some things). Note that a lot of this restoration program - many of its individual projects - involves land acquisition, with the purpose of preventing development on it.

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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by WSTREPS » September 1st, 2016, 8:05 pm

Well, let's just call that a minority opinion. I'm sure the Melaleuca, Hydrilla, Salvinia, and Lygodium would appreciate being left alone. They are indeed very productive.
Lets just call it a very informed opinion and that does place it in the minority. That's pretty funny, you post links to information presented by the most dubious of sources. That's exactly how and why so much garbage makes it way to the top of the charts. Propaganda, when it comes to pulling the wool over the publics eyes its become a very easy thing to do. Especially when you can promote something as being noble and of great importance to us , our children, our children's children. The environment, etc.

The SFWMD Quick fact's as presented by those who stand to make out in a huge way by raping taxpayers promoting the grave importance of this project that really wont fix anything. Golly gee, what would you expect the South Florida Water Management to be saying? Or anyone getting a nice slice of the multi billion dollar pie. This is a cash cow with plenty of politics, special interest group's, partnership's etc. driving it. All the garbage that's associated with pork barrel spending. Its pretty silly to think you will get the truth from those who are getting paid to "FIX THINGS" or their allies.

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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by Jimi » September 2nd, 2016, 3:42 pm

Wow Ernie, I thought Nihilism died with Sid Vicious. You're living proof that it's alive and well.

No future, no future...goodbye.

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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by Bryan Hamilton » September 6th, 2016, 5:26 pm

Recent paper:

Johnson, B. D., J. P. Gibbs, T. A. Bell, and K. T. Shoemaker. 2016. Manipulation of basking sites for endangered eastern massasauga rattlesnakes. The Journal of Wildlife Management 80:803-811.

Generating open-canopy basking sites via manipulation of vegetative cover has been proposed as a conservation strategy for snakes and other reptiles. We assessed how endangered eastern massasauga rattlesnakes (Sistrurus catenatus) responded to 2 types of manipulations at a wetland site in New York, USA: 1) cutting shrubs to create ≤100-m2 plots within known gestation areas in 2008, 2011, and 2012, and 2) cutting tree and shrub cover in the adjacent forest to create a 4-ha forest clearing in 2011. Based on systematic visual surveys from June to August in 2011 and 2012, we estimated snake presence among manipulated and unmanipulated plots in response to plot treatment date. We observed massasaugas selecting newly manipulated plots more often than unmanipulated plots within known gestation areas in both 2011 and 2012, but we detected no increase in massasauga activity within the adjacent forest clearing in either year. The effectiveness of vegetation cutting appeared to decline after 3 years because of vegetation re-growth. We suggest that cutting shrubs to ≤0.25 m in height can benefit this population of rare snakes, which faces limited availability of basking sites because of vegetative succession.

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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by Sam Sweet » September 18th, 2016, 9:03 pm

A while back I posted an account of habitat enhancement by moving emergent vegetation into a pond that had abundant California red-legged frog tadpoles but barren shorelines http://www.fieldherpforum.com/forum/vie ... =2&t=23631. We've kept watch on the place, and netted the pond yesterday -- no tadpoles left.

We went back after dark and found the transplanted vegetation packed with metamorphs. Looks like it worked! A few photos from the site:

Image
The barren sloping shoreline in the foreground exposes metamorphs to herons and other predators.

Image
Liking the new vegetative cover.

Image

Image

Image

Eveywhere you looked in the vegetation there were metamorphosing redlegs, vs. almost none along the barren shores. They are not home free yet (adults are cannibals, see arrow in center photo), but they are doing a lot better than might otherwise be the case.

I'm calling this one a success.

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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by Jeroen Speybroeck » September 18th, 2016, 10:39 pm

Sam Sweet wrote:I'm calling this one a success.
Outstanding! The cynical stuff in this thread should not trump so much that we'd forget that this is the type of stories it deserves!

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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by todd battey » September 24th, 2016, 4:34 pm

Awesome work Sam! Keep up the good fight.

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Re: When is habitat restoration for herps a good thing?

Post by zabbey » October 25th, 2016, 1:40 pm

Brian Hubbs wrote:...Oh, and the state game dept. makes it difficult for the public to even remove non-native species like bullfrogs without a permit...
I'm late to this post but doesn't a CA fishing license work in this instance, I'm not a big fisherman but I do enjoy the occasional bullfrog gigging expedition! Unless I'm reading the regulations incorrectly I don't think there is a limit on bullfrogs if you have a valid license (re: Page 20, Section 5.05 of the CDFW 2016-2017 inland sport fishing regulations). So for $47.01 go get as many of those pests as you please.


https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx ... 095&inline

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