Russ Hefty won't even say where it is. He doesn't want people snooping around, harassing the snakes.
Last fall, the city acquired some parkland on Madison's northeast side, along with a house. Its cement block foundation, the owner revealed, was a haven for hibernating snakes. Hefty, the city's conservation resource supervisor, contacted Bob Hay of the state Department of Natural Resources.
Hay, who works for the DNR's Bureau of Endangered Species as its cold-blooded species manager (really), helped devise a plan to protect the habitat. This included using hay, the lower-case kind, to help the snakes make it through the winter without heat from the house.
Last month, as the city prepared to raze the house, Hay arrived onsite and noticed a fair number of snakes. Most were common garter snakes, up to 30 inches, with a couple of smaller northern brown snakes. The females were pregnant - gravid, it's called - as is typical this time of year.
Hay and Hefty each bagged a bunch and took them home, so they wouldn't get crushed by the heavy equipment. How did that work out? "My wife loves them," attests Hay. What a gal.
The city also enhanced and enlarged the snake habitat, essentially building an onsite hibernaculum. (Boy, you're really getting a vocabulary boost from this week's Isthmus.)
After the house was razed and habitat enhanced, the snakes were brought back. Hefty rounded up a few stray garters, getting bit in the process by a gravid female: "She wailed on me and drew blood." They'll do that.
Hefty says the story shows the city's enlightened approach to other species. "We really do care about all the critters, not just the cute and fuzzy ones."
Hay calls the snakes an important part of the ecosystem. "None of these species we coexist with are here by accident," he says. He doesn't think any chance encounters with the new snake habitat will be "negative for the snakes [or] the people." Folks strolling the area, he says, are "out there to commune with nature." So were Adam and Eve.