The rubber boa is an elusive creature.
The nonvenomous species is native to the West Kootenay, but rarely seen. Western skinks on the other hand, are more commonly spotted around Trail. The small lizards, sometimes called blue-tails, are also native to the region, and can occasionally be seen basking in the rocky and sandy areas at Gyro Park.
Sadly, the rubber boa and western skink – both a thrilling sight to behold in the wild – are threatened species in Canada.
That is why the Silver City Trap Club is dedicated to building a rubber boa and reptile sanctuary on their land, which is located near the Birchbank Golf Course.
With a recent $18,000 boost from Columbia Basin Trust, members are working to restore and enhance reptile habitat by planting native plants and constructing four hibernation areas.
The Trail Times asked club spokesperson William Chapman to talk about the sanctuary, which is already in development.
TT: Why did the club identify this environmental cause as an important project for our region?
Chapman: “As kids growing up in the area, my friends and I used to catch western skinks quite regularly. But as an adult I hardly ever see them anymore. However, they were relatively common at the Silver City Trap Range before we undertook our reconstruction. Rubber boas had been seen from time to time at the range, but during last summer, members saw them a few times when things were being moved around for the reconstruction of the range. It was then that we started to think that the club with all it’s rock works, sandy soil and woody debris might be particularly good habitat for rubber boa and other reptiles. The shooting that takes place on the range restricts the amount of human activity that can occur there and so the areas in and around the range are generally low human activity areas. Wildlife of all kinds are abundant there, but we seemed to be particularly favored with reptiles.”
TT: Why is it important to educate the public about the rubber boa.
Chapman: The rubber boa is a really cool snake. It is very slow moving and gentle appearing. Its small scales and ‘kind of’ loose skin create a rubbery appearance. It is a true boa constrictor and as such has tiny vestigial legs near its vent. It is listed as a species of concern and its best habitat is seriously encroached upon by human activity. Rubber boas live a long time but don’t have offspring very often. It is quite rare to see them in the wild and when you see one, you can tell right away that you are seeing something special. While most people are aware of many of the larger, more charismatic species in our forests, some animals that receive very little attention, like the rubber boa, are very intriguing and are critical components of healthy ecosystem.
TT: What other reptiles will the sanctuary help protect?
Chapman: Northwestern alligator lizards are also seen regularly at the range and their numbers will also be assisted by the habitat improvements at the club. All reptile species will be monitored to keep track of the level of activity on the site. Lizard species are gateway species for young people to develop an interest in the natural world as they are small, gentle and seem so alien in a cold country like Canada.
TT: What is the first step the club will work on, and when will this begin?
Chapman: We have already constructed one hibernaculum this fall and there are plans to construct more. We have been collecting large numbers of large rocks to create basking areas though with this recent snow, our work may be at an end until spring. A hibernaculum is a place where animals can hibernate for the winter. Our hibernacula are deep holes that extend into the ground well below the frost line and which are filled with big rocks that have spaces in between them so that snakes can crawl deep down into the ground to escape the cold for winter.
TT: How can the public become engaged and learn more about this project’s message?
Chapman: We will be constructing four hibernacula and numerous rockworks. The club formerly had extensive rock works and those served as basking areas and protection for lizards. Basking areas are really important for lizards so that they can warm their bodies enough to be active. Also, areas of the club will be re-vegetate in a manner that is conducive to snakes and lizards and woody debris will be spread around recently disturbed areas to create habitat for the rubber boas. The club will have a log book to keep track of sightings and pictures will be taken whenever possible. We will be creating a brochure that describes what has been done at the club and we hope to make our project available to local experts as a study area. We are partnering with Selkirk College to design and undertake some of the work and hope to create a long term working relationship with them. We also hope to continue to host Wild Kidz at our facility and reptile awareness will undoubtedly become part of their program when they are at the Silver City Trap Club. Lizards and snakes are reclusive and so tend not to make for reliable viewing. However, we hope there will be an interest in our undertakings and that other people in the area will learn from we have done and incorporate some of our designs into any of their own landscaping that might be done in reptile habitat. When the work is completed, we will try to develop a way in which we can show what has been done on the site without creating too much disturbance and disruption.
TT: When will the project be complete?
Chapman: The project will be nearing completion near late summer in 2019 though we plan to monitor reptile activity for many years and there will likely always be some alteration and gradual improvement to the habitat enhancements on the site.
The Silver City Trap Club is one of 29 organizations included in the Trust’s 2018 environmental grants, which total over $1 million. For a complete list of approved project click here: Environmental Grants
“Our Environment Grants provide the flexibility to support a wide range of projects focused on ecosystem health, climate change, water stewardship and environmental education,” said Tim Hicks, Columbia Basin Trust Senior Manager, Delivery of Benefits. “We’re honoured to be supporting these varied activities that are helping to strengthen environmental well-being in the Basin, and recognize they couldn’t be accomplished without the hard work that groups and organizations put into developing and realizing them.”
Supporting healthy, diverse and functioning ecosystems is one of the Trust’s 13 strategic priorities. Learn more about the Trust’s other environmental efforts, including its Climate Action Program and Ecosystem Enhancement Program, at ourtrust.org/environment.