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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Search for snakes starts today at American Memorial Park

Comprehensive but “strictly preemptive” searches for a potential snake population will be conducted around the American Memorial Park beginning tonight to help ensure that the Commonwealth remains snake-free.

The primary focus of the searches, which will be performed by up to 15 trained responders per night from the commercial seaport to Micro Beach Road until Nov. 30, is the invasive brown tree snake, which is largely blamed for the destruction of Guam’s native wildlife, said Dr. Russell Benford.

Benford, supervisory wildlife biologist for the CNMI Division of Fish & Wildlife, said the searches are a collaborative effort of their office with the U.S. National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey.

The project is funded by a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife – Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program or WSFR, which provides numerous and enduring benefits to the people, wildlife, and fisheries resources of states and territories.

Benford said in an email response that the four agencies are working together to improve the region’s ability to respond effectively to a snake incursion, a particular concern on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota where flights and ships from snake-infested areas arrive on a daily basis.

With the arrivals expected to increase in the future, Benford said that snake incursions and the general introduction of invasive species are among the biggest threats to the wildlife in the Northern Marianas.

“While CNMI already has a well-trained brown tree snake monitoring and response team, we are currently improving our response capacity to protect the Commonwealth from this imminent and growing threat,” he told Saipan Tribune.

Benford revealed that there have been two preemptive searches for incipient snake population on Saipan, which took place in 2007 and 2009 near the Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport “where introduced snakes are likely to be found.”

Both searches were performed due to the “high” number of snake sightings reported to them, with the two most recent credible encounters of the reptile occurring in 2008 in or near the American Memorial Park in Garapan.

None of the searches, however, detected any snakes, according to Benford.

“But this doesn’t mean snakes aren’t present on Saipan. Snakes could still be out there that we just haven’t been able to find,” he noted, adding that an additional search would be performed on Rota in the spring.

According to Benford, they respond aggressively to sighting reports, given that snakes are hard to see even in places where they are abundant, such as in Guam. A credible snake sighting in a place where snakes are not abundant like Saipan could mean many more are out there and are undetected.

He said keeping the islands snake-free is an enormous task that requires resources and effort, acknowledging the dedicated staff at the Brown Tree Snake Section and from USGS who monitor and respond to snake sightings.

“Incipient snake monitoring and response is one of many projects DFW participates in to protect our natural legacy and ensure that the islands our children inherit are as safe, rich, and beautiful as the islands our ancestors have left for us,” said Benford.

He emphasized that diligence and constant attention to the problem will help address a potential snake incursion in the CNMI in the short term, while new methodologies and techniques could yield better solutions.

Benford also underlined the critical role of the public in keeping an eye out for snakes in the CNMI, saying that volunteers are welcome to join the five-day snake search.

To join the search or for more information, call 664-6000. For snake sightings anywhere in the islands, call the Brown Tree Snake Hotline at 28-SNAKE (76253).

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