Gulf Power is joining The Nature Conservancy in spreading a great habitat and species recovery success story, the release on July 23 of 20 federally threatened eastern indigo snakes at the Conservancy’s Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve .

The release is part of a collaborative endeavor to return the native, non-venomous predator — of the reptile world — to the region.

The Nature Conservancy North Florida Program Manager, David Printiss was among a team releasing 20 indigo snakes at the Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve in North Florida. Photo by Tim Donovan, FWC.   

Nature Conservancy officials pointed out that the release of the snakes on the 6,295-acre preserve marks the second year in a row of the reintroduction effort made possible by a long-term joint plan of multiple nonprofit, agency, and academia partners to restore this important species to the region.

The Nature Conservancy, Central Florida Zoo’s Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation), Auburn University, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Orianne Society, Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center, Gulf Power, Southern Company through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida are dedicated to supporting the recovery of this species.

Some of these partners made it possible for the return of the indigo, by supporting a massive 30-year longleaf pine habitat restoration project.

Indigo snake release team onsite at ABRP includes folks from Auburn University, FWC, The Nature Conservancy and Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation.

“Gulf Power was one of the first partners to join the effort to accelerate restoration of the longleaf pine reforestation and ground cover restoration in the Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve with $385,000 in grants from 1999 to 2005,” said Kimberly Blair, Gulf Power spokesperson. “We are happy that our investments helped pave the way for the return of these beautiful indigo snakes that are important to the full restoration of the landscape. We continue to support the restoration and species recovery effort.”

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Since 2014, Gulf Power has also built on its initial investment by leveraging contributions with its parent company Southern Company in partnership with National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and other public and private donors to provide  $1.56 million in Longleaf Stewardship Funds to The Nature Conservancy for conservation efforts in the Preserve and on lands that stretch from Bay County east through the Apalachicola River region and elsewhere. The grant dollars are also helping to provide for the critical monitoring of the snakes. Gulf Power employees also dedicated 700 hours during volunteer workdays to plant trees and native grasses and remove invasive species.

“This success story highlights our promise to environmental stewardship,” said Blair. “Gulf Power understands that to successfully restore the iconic southern longleaf pine ecosystem in Northwest Florida and throughout the Southeast, and to help the recovery of the endangered and threatened species that depend on it, we must take a landscape approach. It’s also important for us to invest in making sure these natural resources are here for future generations.”

Gulf Power is involved in longleaf pine restoration on more than 1.3 million acres across its service area including its own company-owned lands, the Rainwater Perdido River Nature Preserve and Blackwater River State Forest and Eglin Air Force Base.

The indigo reintroduction efforts are supported by grants and other funding, including a Conserve Wildlife Tag Grant from the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida, funded by the public who purchase Conserve Wildlife Florida license plates.

Brooke Talley, with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, releases an indigo a the entrance to a gopher tortoise burrow. Photo by Tim Donovan, FWC.

With its beautiful iridescent skin and docile to human nature, the eastern indigo snake is the longest snake native to North America and an iconic and essential component of the now rare southern longleaf pine forest. It serves a critical function to balance the wildlife community — it consumes a variety of small animals including both venomous and non-venomous snakes. Impressive at over 8 feet long, the indigo often relies upon gopher tortoise burrows for shelter.

Bred and raised by the OCIC, the 20 young snakes, 12 males and 8 females, have been implanted with radio transmitters by the Central Florida Zoo‘s vet staff to allow for the tracking and monitoring. Auburn University’s Alabama Natural Heritage Program uses radio telemetry so researchers can track the animals’ movements, habitat selection and behavior. One of the eastern indigo snakes that was released in 2017 traveled over a mile from where it was initially released.

David Printiss, North Florida Program manager, The Nature Conservancy in Florida said this project is an exceptional example of a strong partnership dedicated to success.

“All of the pieces have come together — the protection and management of the landscape, the advancement of the animal husbandry expertise to raise young snakes for release, and the development of the science necessary to make good decisions and monitor project success,” he said. “The restoration is complete, the snakes are flourishing, and the monitoring program is well equipped and ready — all systems go!”