Vanishing Desert - Portrait of the Rattlesnake
In the Summer and Fall 2011, we travelled to the Osoyoos region, the only desert ecosystem in Canada, to find the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus oreganus), with Emily Lomas, a master's student at Thompson Rivers University, who is studying the impacts of urban development on the habitat and migration routes of rattlesnakes in the Osoyoos desert.
Located in the southwest corner of British Columbia's Okanagan Valley, the Osoyoos desert region is characterized by arid, sandy hard-packed ground and talus slopes dotted with drought-resistant grasses, shrubs, and cacti. More than 60 percent of this habitat has been destroyed. Only nine percent of what remains is considered undisturbed. The main threat is urban and agricultural development.
I had not thought of rattlesnakes as migratory species before. Through Emily's research, I have learned that after spending the winter in communal dens, the rattlesnakes embark on annual migrations to and from their summer foraging habitat. Unfortunately, already persecuted by the public, the snakes are now facing increasing difficulties navigating their migration routes from their winter dens to their summer feeding habitat, due to altered land uses. We saw the conflicts between rattlesnakes and people, as shown for example by the fences built to stop rattlesnakes from coming too close to human settlements. We saw a golf course right in the middle of snake migration routes.
While videographer Mike McKinley and myself were initially nervous to be around rattlesnakes, we quickly realized that we humans do more harm to the snakes than they harm us. Greatly affected by urban development and habitat alteration, the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake is listed federally as Threatened and is on the provincial Blue List.
-- Isabelle Groc for the Wilderness Committee