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Virginia CZM Program: 2016 Coastal Grant Project Description and Final Summary

Project Task:VA CZM logo



Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries

Project Title:

Lower Chickahominy Watershed Herpetological Inventory

Project Description:

The lower Chickahominy River watershed is one of the last remaining ecologically-intact watersheds in Virginia’s coastal zone, even though it is located between the Richmond and Hampton Roads metropolitan areas, which are home to more than 2.5 million Virginians.  Large tracts of conserved lands exist within the watershed, including the Chickahominy Wildlife Management Area, a 5200-acre parcel located along the west side of the Chickahominy River near its confluence with the James River. Game Farm Marsh WMA is a 429-acre parcel located up river across from the New Kent Forestry Center. From a herpetological perspective, this WMA is mostly unexplored. Because of its relatively undeveloped characteristic, the watershed supports a relatively high number of Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN), as identified in Virginia’s Wildlife Action Plan.  The Wildlife Action Plan has been a guiding force in wildlife conservation over the last 10 years. It represents a strategy to conserve Virginia’s wildlife resources and help keep species from becoming endangered. DGIF and partners have used the Action Plan to identify key species and habitats in need of conservation and implement projects and research needed to address those issues on behalf of all Virginians.

Less developed and more rural areas often provide a diversity of valuable wildlife habitats, which can be degraded or lost as human populations grow. This region is important to a variety of species, such as the glossy crayfish snake, eastern pond mussel, rare skipper, and the eastern slender glass lizard.  For the glossy crayfish snake, the confluence of Diascund Creek and the Chickahominy River is the only known occurrence of this species in the Commonwealth, and it has not been documented at this location since 1994. Of Virginia’s 884 SGCN, 100 are believed to either occur, or have recently occurred, within the region. Of these 100 species, over half are dependent upon habitats provided in the region and constitute the priority SCGN. Current information about the status and distribution of the 23 SGCN reptiles and amphibians (e.g., mud snake, rainbow snake, spotted turtle, greater and lesser sirens, and yellow-bellied slider) is spotty at best in the watershed and is needed to help inform land use decisions. The Chickahominy River is the northern most location of the mud snake, which wasn’t described in this area until 2009. The spotted turtle is currently being petitioned for federal listing under the Endangered Species Act, and the Chickahominy River watershed maybe one of its strongholds in Virginia. In 2016, the Atlantic Coast leopard frog was discovered in New Kent and Charles City counties. This species was not described to science until 2014 and demonstrates the need for an in-depth herpetological investigation into this region.

This project will provide current status and distribution information about targeted SGCN in the lower Chickahominy River watershed.  Data will be gathered using survey techniques appropriate for each species (e.g., baited traps set in aquatic environments to sample for rainbow snakes; audible point surveys for frogs and toads) during seasons most appropriate for sampling these animals.

Federal Funding:


Project Contact:

Rebecca Gwynn, 804.829.6720,

Project Status:

10/1/16 - 9/30/17; Project Completed

Final Product:

Lower Chickahominy Watershed Herpetological Inventory (PDF) 

Project Summary:

The Chickahominy River is an 87-mile-long river named after the Chickahominy Indian Tribe. Its headwaters begin just northwest of Richmond as the border between Henrico and Hanover counties, and it flows in a southeasterly direction until its confluence with the James River. The lower section of the watershed serves as the border between Charles City, New Kent and James City counties. Historically, this region has been primarily an agricultural community. Although it continues to serve as an agricultural area, it also serves as a major source of drinking water for the lower York-James Peninsula and for outdoor recreational activities (i.e. boating, hunting and fishing), and as a focal area for wildlife conservation.

According to the Virginia Fish and Wildlife Information System (VaFWIS), 69 species of reptile and amphibian have been documented within the lower Chickahominy River watershed. To better understand the distribution of the herpetofauna of the region, biologists from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries conducted an intensive six-month survey of the lower section of the watershed and selected tributaries, completing approximately 2,000 hours of survey activities. The survey areas included the Chickahominy Wildlife Management Area, Game Farm Marsh WMA, Freedom Park, New Kent Forestry Center, and Crawford State Forest, along with private lands where the team has been granted access permission.  Survey methods included audio surveys for calling frogs, road-cruising at night after rain events, and “visual encounter surveys” (including flipping logs and other ground cover material).  The team had also placed 65 sheets of tin across the study areas to facilitate snake surveys and had placed about 20 PVC pipes for treefrog surveys.  The survey team documented 64 of the 69 species known to occur in this region, including a new county record for Scarlet Kingsnake and a new location for the recently-described Atlantic Coast Leopard Frog. Four species previously documented in the watershed were not documented via the survey effort: glossy swampsnake (Liodytes rigida), northern scarletsnake (Cemophora coccinea), eastern mudsnake (Farancia abucura abucura), and slender glass lizard (Ophisaurus attenuates).

To aid in the management of this taxonomic group in this region, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries produced 64 maps showing location and abundance of each species observed, a list of observed species and number of observations, provided Management Recommendations, and drafted two technical publications about the new county record and the observation of anopththalmia (absence of one or both eyes) in an adult Eastern Kingsnake. A spreadsheet of species observations was also submitted to VaFWIS to be entered into the database.  This information will be available through individual species accounts and geographic searches at the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ VaFWIS web site at 

Disclaimer: This project summary provides the federal dollars initially awarded to the grantee. Due to underexpenditure or reprogramming of grant funds, this figure may change. For more information on the allocation of coastal grant funds, please contact Laura McKay, Virginia Coastal Program Manager, at 804.698.4323 or email:

A more detailed Scope of Work for this project is available. Please direct your request for a copy to or


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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000

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