HARRISBURG, Pa. — USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is looking for landowners in Venango, Butler and Mercer counties in northwestern Pennsylvania who are interested in creating and/or maintaining young forest habitat, wetlands, wet meadows or scrub shrub areas in order to conserve desperately needed Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake habitat.
The Eastern Massasauga is critically endangered in Pennsylvania and is now limited to only four isolated populations in the north-western portion of the Commonwealth. Although Massasaugas are venomous, they rarely strike unless provoked.
NRCS, with the help of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, recently began a new Massasauga initiative through the NRCS-administered Wetlands Reserve Program that aims to protect and restore habitat for these rattlesnakes.
WRP provides landowners with financial and technical assistance to help protect, restore, and enhance wetlands on their property, which can improve water quality, provide wildlife habitat and reduce flooding.
The program offers three options to eligible landowners: permanent easements that cover 100 percent of restoration costs, 30-year easements that cover 75 percent of restoration costs, and a restoration-only option that does not involve an easement and covers 75 percent of restoration costs.
The Eastern Massasauga is a species that requires both wetlands and non-forested upland habitats, such as meadows and reverted agricultural fields within close proximity.
For much of their active season, they prefer habitats such as abandoned fields, wet meadows, and grasslands. During the winter, they hibernate in wetlands within the groundwater and /or surface water flows.
Contact your local USDA NRCS Service Center to request more information on the conservation programs.