How one Mi'kmaq community is trying to save a threatened snake species
Acadia First Nation in Nova Scotia developing conservation plan for eastern ribbon snake
On a rare calm day on Lake Rossignol in Nova Scotia's Queens County, Sarah Jermey steps gingerly across the rocks and scans the water's edge.
The 24-year-old is searching for the eastern ribbon snake, a threatened species in southwestern Nova Scotia.
And she's not the only one keeping an eye out for the slender semi-aquatic snake. Members of the Acadia First Nation are sharing stories and reporting sightings as they work to develop a snake conservation plan, one of the first of its kind in Atlantic Canada.
"That's a lot of what we hope, is just that we get more people who want to help and who are more interested in species at risk," said Jermey, the species-at-risk assistant co-ordinator for Acadia First Nation.
It's Jermey's job to visit grassy areas and lakes where the snakes have been seen and document what she finds. She also holds workshops for youth and educates community members about how they can protect the species.
The eastern ribbon snake is largely found around Wildcat and Ponhook, two reserves that are part of the Acadia First Nation and are ideal habitats for the water-loving reptiles.
Apart from the Great Lakes region of Ontario, southwestern Nova Scotia is the only place in Canada where the snakes live.
This "disjunct" population makes it especially precarious, according to Andrew Boyne, who works with the Canadian Wildlife Service.
While it's difficult to determine exactly how many are left, Environment and Climate Change Canada estimates there are between 4,000 and 9,000 eastern ribbon snakes in Nova Scotia.
Shoreline development and human activity are the major reasons why the species is threatened.
"It's in a part of southwest Nova Scotia where cottage development has happened and continues to occur at a relatively high rate," said Boyne.
Community on board
Boyne has been working with the community since 2014, and said from the very first meetings, community members were on board with the idea of a conservation plan.
"This is the first project that we have where we really are sitting down and actively working directly with a First Nation, with community members," he said.
It's exciting, said Boyne, and not just because it bodes well for the population of eastern ribbon snakes.
"If we do develop a plan and we do end up with really strong community stewardship and community engagement, there will be a model not just within the Indigenous community … but beyond that, to the rest of society," he said.
Co-existing with the snakes
Shalan Joudry, project manager for the species-at-risk program, said all you have to do is look to Acadia First Nation, which has been co-existing with the snakes for generations.
For her, it's about tapping into that knowledge rather than imposing a set of rules.
"In mainstream ecology you have to be objective, but to us it's not objective," she said. "It's very subjective that we understand and have respect for every species and its role in the ecosystem."
It's a lesson she hopes reaches beyond Wildcat and Ponhook.
"A lot of people have these fears about snakes. It's not as cute as like a turtle to be protecting, but that's one of the important things is to be talking about how snakes are really important on the landscape," she said.
With files from CBC's Information Morning