Spring officially arrives Monday, but one of the more serpentine rites of spring arrived earlier this week.
The annual warm-up as winter loses its grip brings about an outcoming of reptiles and amphibians from hibernaculums, the habitats in which they spend the coldest months in deep sleep. At Shawnee National Forest’s LaRue-Pine Hills “Snake Road,” that means it is time for a two-month traffic closure to prevent injuries and deaths for the spring migration of these cold-blooded creatures.
Larue-Pine Hills is a unique combination of summer and winter habitats in immediate proximity that creates a focus on a concentrated migration. The area, near Murphysboro, Ill., just off Ill. 3, contains a swamp that uniquely shoulders up against an area of limestone bluffs.
Between the swamp and the bluff runs a gravel U.S. Forest Service byway, LaRue Road. This road is closed to vehicle traffic from Sept. 1 to Oct. 30 each year because snakes and other cold-blooded critters leave the wetlands and cross the route to get to winter refuge spots in the adjacent bluffs.
For the spring season, as was done on Wednesday, this so-called Snake Road is closed again for the slithery bunch to make the short migration back to their warm weather territories. This roadway closure is March 15 to May 15 each year, another two-month period that encompasses virtually all the reptile and amphibian passage from hibernation to active warm weather habitats.
Particularly remarkable about the LaRue-Pine Hills logistics is the close proximity of swamp and the greatly different upland rocky bluffs. Where these opposing habitat lie side by side focuses the migration of snakes, frogs and other reptiles and amphibians in a compact area. And the gravel road through that narrow divide makes these critters much more obvious.
Road-crossing snakes aren’t nearly as thick as those people with nightmarish fears might imagine, but in the past, numerous reptiles and amphibians got squashed when the road was open during the migration. USFS managers years ago instituted a three-week closure each spring and fall, but they settled on a two-month closure each season to protect early and late movers during each migration beginning in 1994.
Biologists who monitor the road crossings say the LaRue-Pine Hills migration can involve about 35 species of snakes, including venomous cottonmouths (some of the northernmost examples of these), copperheads and timber rattlesnakes.
The wriggling migrants crossing the Snake Road are fully protected, of course, but USFS managers do allow human foot traffic on the gravel byway if not their vehicles. The fascination for snakes attracts some people each migration season to observe the road-crossing reptiles. The road also is a favorite spot for biologists studying the various species during the migration.
Visitors to the area, however, are reminded that it is strictly look-but-not-touch for snakes along the Snake Road. Snakes can’t be harmed, and no collection is allowed. For most people, that’s not a problem.
- The operator of Samson’s Whitetail Mountain, a high-fenced shooting preserve in Johnson County, Ill., has been fined thousands of dollars for the poaching of two trophy class wild deer.
Jerry Stafford, 58, of Vienna, pleaded guilty to the unlawful taking of 12-point and 8-point bucks as well as improper disposal of animal carcasses, both Class A misdemeanors under Illinois law. Stafford was ordered to pay $20,200 in restitution fees to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and court costs and fees of $300. He also was ordered to 24 months of court supervision.
Stafford operates a “high-fence” shooting facility, where customers pay money to shoot raised or imported game mammals in a fenced area. Illinois Conservation Police began investigating after learning he was advertising “low-fence hunts” in conjunction with Illinois’ official deer hunting dates.
According to investigators, Stafford’s guides took clients outside the high-fence area to hunt deer in the wild. Investigators documented violations including outfitting or guiding without a permit, uncased firearms in vehicles, hunting with the aid of a motor vehicle and the use of lights, hunting before legal shooting hours, hunting without permission, and violating tagging requirements.
During their investigation, police found an illegal dump site where wildlife killed on the property had been disposed of over a lengthy period.
Investigators documented evidence of animals escaping from the high-fence facility, including fallow deer, javelinas, and aoudad. A javelina is a wild animal similar to a pig, and an aoudad is a type of wild sheep. An animal feeder was found just outside one of the high-fence gates with white-tailed deer and elk tracks around it.
The case was filed in Johnson County following a joint investigation between the Illinois Conservation Police and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, the Illinois Department of Revenue, and Illinois State Police air operations assisted in the investigation. The Illinois Attorney General’s Office prosecuted the case.
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