There are snakes in them-thar Pemberton hills... and rare ones at that.
The sharp-tailed snake is a red-listed, federally endangered species, and 10 were found during a snake and lizard inventory around the village in 2012 and 2013.
The reptiles live on the long hillside of Mackenzie Ridge, a spot that has been slated for development projects by more than one developer.
Conservationists are asking for the spots the species have been found in on the ridge to be respected both by developers and by mountain bike and dirt bike riders, who have been accidently running snakes over in their trail network.
The red-coloured snake is small, with the adults no larger than a pencil, and so-named "sharp tailed" because it has a little spike on the edge of its tail, not unlike a rose thorn. It eats slugs and like other snakes in the region, it's not poisonous.
Dr. Leslie Anthony, a Whistler-based herpetologist and writer, found the sharp-tailed snake quite by accident in 2011. He said that over the last two years, the snake has been found at six "tiny, scattered" locations along five kilometres of Mackenzie Ridge.
He was in Pemberton looking for a rubber boa for a terrarium project for Whistler's Bioblitz annual species count when he came across a single sharp-tailed snake. It is a species that had never been recorded on the British Columbian mainland before.
"It was pretty shocking to me. The probability of someone with my training knowing what I was looking at, that was weird, too," he said. "This was a big deal in herpetological circles because this was a big range extension... Not only is it highly endangered; it is also very hard to find. It's like finding a hay-coloured needle in a haystack the size of a baseball stadium."
Anthony decided to learn all he could about the species and by 2012 he had gained a grant from Habitat Conservation Trust Fund to make an inventory of snakes and lizards on the ridge and other spots in Pemberton.
There are only "tiny windows in the spring and fall" when the species can be found on the surface, he said. The rest of the time it prefers being underground.
"It has been thought to have a very restricted distribution on the lower part of Vancouver Island in the Victoria area and on some of the Gulf Islands," Anthony said. "It is very habitat restricted in Canada, it only lives in environments that have the right heat and moisture regimens."
He brought a government-run recovery team for the sharp-tailed snake into the picture after he found more sharp-tailed snake sites in the spring of 2012. He then turned to Veronica Woodruff of the Pemberton Stewardship Society and the One Mile Lake Nature Centre.
"Finding an endangered species in Pemberton is of interest to the society, it certainly ups the biodiversity index of the region," Anthony said. "I showed (Woodruff) what I was doing, how I was finding these animals and I showed her all the other species that were there, too, and there were many. While they were not red-listed like the sharp-tailed snakes, some were blue-listed or had the threatened status."
This included the rubber boa (70 of this species were counted for the inventory), the only native constrictor in Canada, and the western toad. The den sites for both the sharp-tailed snake and the boa are found on the ridge, in fact five species of reptiles were found to be breeding there.
Woodruff told Anthony that the ridge where all these finds were being made was slated for a variety of development projects.
"It was like a perfect storm. You find an unbelievably rare, highly endangered species that's never been found in a place before and it just so happens to be in a place that's already far into the development process," Anthony said. "And the trail system is being continuously and surreptitiously expanded all the time and the best bike trails happen to be in the best snake habitat."
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