Southern Agenda

Wild and Free

Four years ago, U.S. Forest Service biologist Emlyn B. Smith discovered her first baby Louisiana pine snake in a trap she had set in Central Louisiana’s Kisatchie National Forest. “I was so excited I could barely stand up,” she remembers—the little reptile, born in the wild, provided proof that a yearslong breeding and reintroduction program for the species was working. Louisiana pine snakes are tan or yellow with a dark dappling of splotches, thick bodied, nonvenomous, and among the rarest reptiles in the country due to loss of habitat. The remaining snakes live in just three sites in Louisiana, hunting pocket gophers underground in the sandy soil. After continued reintroductions from concerted captive breeding at four partner zoos, the population in Smith’s eight-thousand-acre management area rings in at 291 snakes, with more on the docket for release this spring. “The aim is to put them wherever they naturally occur, starting on more public lands,” Smith says. “If we give them the habitat, they’ll do what they need to do.”