WILLIAMSBURG — Volunteers are sought for a wildlife survey at Petobego State Game Area in Whitewater Township.
Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy officials need volunteers to help them find frogs, look for lizards, seek snakes and salamanders, and track toads and turtles.
The effort will happen during a pair of Sept. 8 sessions at the nature preserve which features Tobeco Creek in Williamsburg.
The stream is part of a larger wetland complex that also includes Petobego Pond and Petobego Marsh, both cited as natural areas of statewide significance.
Participants in the survey event will be expected to travel across challenging terrain to observe possibly sensitive species, then enter their findings into the Michigan Herp Atlas Project, a publicly accessible database project about amphibians and reptiles.
“We are going to be walking in a marshy area,” said Chris Garrock, the conservancy’s director of stewardship. “Volunteers should bring muck boots and prepare to get dirty.”
There will be both morning and afternoon three-hour shifts for the volunteer herpetological hunters.
Advance registration is required to allow volunteers to receive training information before the event.
Garrock said the survey is part of a multi-year study funded by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grant.
The goal is to address invasive species and habitat issues, researching and comparing ecosystems at Petobego Creek Natural Area and Skegemog Lake Wildlife Area, which is around nearby Lake Skegemog.
Conservancy workers worked to remove glossy buckthorn, an invasive shrub that blocks out sunlight in marshy areas which harms the ability of cold-blooded amphibians to regulate their temperature. The plant also alters soil chemistry and negatively impacts larval amphibians, Garrock said.
These types of biodiversity surveys of herpetofauna — amphibians and reptiles — is also part of the overall effort to bolster imperiled species at the natural areas, he said.
One question Garrock said he hopes to answer is whether any eastern massasauga rattlesnakes can be found at Petobego, where the habitat is similar to the Skegemog site: conifer and hardwood swamp, upland forest and open grasslands.
“And we know they are at Skegemog,” he said.
The eastern massasauga is Michigan’s sole venomous snake and is federally listed as a threatened species, known to be at risk because of habitat fragmentation and loss.
The project leader will be David Mifsud, a herpetologist and wetland ecologist from Chelsea, an authority on Michigan’s amphibians and reptiles and administrator of the Michigan Herp Atlas Project.
Next week’s volunteer event should help participants to foster their connection to the natural world, Garrock said.
“It’s easy to not care about something you’ve never been around.”
Jennifer Jay, the conservancy’s communications director, agreed this will be a good opportunity to “retrain” people into more of a “stewardship mindset” around a property where there have been issues.
Much of the natural area is a mix of active farmland and fallow fields along Angell Road, east of U.S. Highway 31.
Existing conservancy volunteers can register for the event through the website’s www.gtrlc.org/volunteer/calendar" target="_blank">calendar, while new volunteers can sign up at www.gtrlc.org/volunteer online.
All participants must create an account with the Michigan Herp Atlas at MIHerpAtlas.org online.