• Herp search helps gauge post’s environment

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  • Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
    Members of Girl Scout Junior Troop 5413 accompanied Neil Bass, natural resources specialist for the Department of Public Works, and Stan Rasmussen, director of Regional Environmental and Energy Office, Department of Defense, on a herpetology search May 4 around post.
    “Knowing what species (there are) and where they occur is important for monitoring the health of our post environment,” Bass said.
    The search was also an opportunity for the Scouts to earn their environmental badges.
    “As part of the attainment of badges, (the Girl Scouts) constructed (more than) 30 cover boards that provided habitat for herps and an easy sampling method,” Bass said. “So, they will get to sample and observe wildlife using the boards they helped build and install.”
    Carrie VanNess, troop co-leader, said there are several benefits that come from the girls participating in the search.
    “It’s important to teach them about community service and part of it, too is giving back because Neil has come out and helped us on several badges,” VanNess said.
    “It’s also important (because) if you look at our law it’s about taking care of the environment and it’s also about being a sister to every Girl Scout so we try to hit each of those components.”
    “It’s good for them to learn that we have an impact on the environment (and) you want to teach the girls civic duty, but also that we do so many things to negatively impact our environment that we also want to show how to take care of our environment,” VanNess said.
    Areas surveyed included the power line ridge off Sheridan Drive near the Fort de Cavagnial historical marker, the dike road around Sherman Army Airfield and the floodplains. In all, the group found 11 ringneck snakes and one racer.
    Fort Leavenworth began annual herp searches in 2010 under then-Air Force Lt. Col. David C. McMartin, who retired to Texas in 2015.
    “Lt. Col. McMartin was just an avid amateur herpetologist who wanted to participate with like-minded people in his hobby,” Bass said. “Herp people like to see and tally herp observations just like birders do.”
    In the past, herp searches have resulted in seven species of frogs and toads, one species of lizard, four species of turtle and 11 species of snake including one venomous species, the copperhead, McMartin said in an e-mail.
    “In 2013, we found two Great Plains narrow-mouthed toads — Gastrophryne olivacea,” McMartin said, “a species not seen on the post since 1940.”
    The Scouts said they enjoyed doing the search.
    “It’s really fun. I like it,” said Charlotte Sweet, Troop 5413. “I like the building part.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Alyssa Pierce, Troop 5413, said she thought they were doing something important.
    “It’s important and it’s also really fun to do and get involved with,” Pierce said. “I like to do the outdoor stuff.”
    Girl Scout Ava Kayl, Troop 5413, said the herp search is something she wants to continue to do saying she wants to be a herpetologist when she grows up.
    “I love reptiles and amphibians,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to take care of them.”
    VanNess said she hopes by participating in the herp search, it will clear up any misconceptions the public has about the Girl Scouts.
    “I think that sometimes the misconception is that Girl Scouts (are) either just about home (economics) or it’s just about camping,” she said. “It’s about a whole host of things. We do a lot of (science, technology, engineering and math) and environment is a big part of it as well.”
    Maj. Ethan Orr, Command and General Staff College student, and his 8-year-old son Camden, decided to go on the search after seeing the notice in the paper.
    “Camden is really interested in reptiles, environment and so on,” Orr said. “This is akin to a dream for him, a day of walking around looking for reptiles, snakes and nature. We’re pretty lucky to be involved.”
    While the search is a normal survey for post, Bass was also keeping track for a DoD-landwide herp search around the United States through the DoD Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation to test for Ophidiomyces ophidiicola, or snake fungal disease, which eventually kills the reptile, Bass said. After the search, the samples were sent to the University of Illinois Wildlife Epidemiology Lab.
    As part of that study, Bass sampled the eastern racer found near the airfield. The racer measured 90-centimeters long and had a 1.5-centimeter lesion, which Rasmussen said could be a result of a hawk attack. Bass swabbed the racer down its body eight times as well as swabbed the lesion once to be sent off to the lab. The study is being conducted on several DoD lands through Dec. 31.
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