Marriott Hotel Poised to Destroy only Known Upstate Colony of Rare Worm Snake

ALBANY: As we go to press, the Albany Common Council may have taken the final step to allow a Marriott Hotel to destroy the only known upstate colony of the rare worm snake by approving a re-zoning for the proposed hotel site.

After Save the Pine Bush sued the City over its approval of the hotel, the judge ruled in our favor and sent the developer back to find other rare and threatened species on the site. The developer’s scientist, of course, found nothing, but DEC scientists found the rare worm snake on the site last August and September.

Now, to mitigate the find of the rare worm snake on the Marriott site, the developer has proposed removing the snakes prior to construction and building a fence to keep the snakes out.

Since that time, Save the Pine Bush has discovered some fascinating facts about worms snakes. SPB attorney, Steve Downs, wrote to the City:

“For snakes to survive in this region, including the Hognose Snake and the Worm Snake, it is necessary for the snakes to go into hibernation during the winter in a den below the frost level where they will not freeze. (Properly referred to as a “hibernaculum”) Prolonged freezing will kill snakes. All hibernating snakes, including Worm Snakes and Hognose Snakes, tend to leave their hibernaculum in the spring, migrate out into their home territory, and then return in the autumn to the same hibernaculum which they left in the spring. These snakes tend to be quite territorial and refuse to move far from their natural winter hibernaculum. When snakes are removed from the area around their natural wintering area, they tend to return, and if they are prevented from returning, they experience a high mortality rate.

”The fact that Worm Snakes have been repeatedly found on or near the Hotel site, and that they have been documented here for over 21 years, indicates that they must have one or more hibernacula in the immediate area Relocating the Worm Snakes from the Hotel site, (as proposed by the developer), and bulldozing or otherwise destroying their hibernaculum in the course of construction would devastate the Worm Snake population since the Snakes would normally try to return and on returning would find their hibernaculum destroyed. . .

“In addition it should noted that Worm Snakes spend much of their time underground and are often very difficult to find. It is unrealistic to suppose that a significant number of Worm Snakes can be located when they emerge from their hibernaculum in the spring and removed to some other area. Many Worm Snakes will be missed in the “roundup”, and may well be killed during construction. Thus if the Common Council approves this project as presented, it will indicate that the Common Council is prepared to accept the extirpation of the Worm Snake from the Pine Bush. . .

“According to the DEC letters, this is the only colony of Worm Snakes to have been found in this area or apparently in Upstate New York for many years. . . It would be irresponsible to destroy this unique, and long existing colony of Worm Snakes under any circumstance, but especially since the colony is located on the edge of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve – a preserve that was created deliberately to protect all of the rare species of the Pine Bush including the Worm Snake. Does it make any sense to create the Albany Pine Bush Preserve to protect rare animals such as Worm Snakes, and then when the only upstate colony of Worm Snakes is discovered in the Pine Bush to approve a development project that potentially will destroy the snakes? Obviously not.

“Worm Snakes are an attractive animal, harmless to humans, but beneficial to their ecosystem. Because they spend so much of their time underground they are hard to study and so little is known about them. Here is a golden opportunity presented to the Albany Community. Study the Worm Snakes. The Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission (APBPC) is right next door. Snakes are in decline all over the country and their role in maintaining the balance in nature is badly misunderstood. The APBPC should use this colony of Worm Snakes to help scientists and the public understand reptiles and their role in the environment. Worm Snakes are classified as a species of Special Concern meaning that they are at risk of becoming “threatened”, or “endangered”, but in the present context, where they are the only colony existing anywhere in the Upstate area, and are apparently a feature of the Pine Bush ecology, their status takes on a much greater significance. . .”

Published in the Jan/Feb 2009 Newletter