For Immediate Release, February 25, 2020

Contact:

Elise Bennett, (727) 755-6950, ebennett@biologicaldiversity.org

Black Pinesnake Wins 324,000 Acres of Protected Critical Habitat in Mississippi, Alabama

Rare Snake, Hundreds of Other Species Need Restoration of Long-leaf Pine Forests

JACKSON, Miss.— Following a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced that 324,679 acres of critical habitat in Mississippi and Alabama will be protected for the rare and imperiled black pinesnake.

The black pinesnake’s southeastern longleaf pine forests have been reduced to less than 5% of their historic extent because of agriculture and pine plantations, fire suppression and urbanization.

“This will help give these elegant snakes the space and safety they need to survive,” said Elise Bennett, a Center attorney dedicated to protecting imperiled reptiles and amphibians. “Black pinesnakes require both forest habitat and the active reintroduction of fire. Protecting and restoring longleaf pine forests is an important step toward recovering the pinesnake and many other important species in the South.”

The rule announced today will protect eight units of critical habitat, including occupied areas in Forrest, George, Greene, Harrison, Jones, Marion, Perry, Stone and Wayne counties in Mississippi and in Clarke County, Alabama. These areas are already home to pinesnakes and contain crucial habitat features such as deep, sandy soils, unfragmented pine forest and safe refuges.

Federal lands make up about 68% of the proposed protected acreage, with the De Soto National Forest comprising the majority of five of the critical habitat units.

“Longleaf pine habitat has suffered such degradation that diverse species, from the black pinesnake to the gopher tortoise and red-cockaded woodpecker, are facing extinction,” said Bennett. “Protecting this critically endangered habitat will help safeguard the South’s wild heritage for generations.”

Black pinesnakes were protected under the Endangered Species Act in 2015 as the result of a federal agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity that sped protection decisions for 757 imperiled species around the country.

Black pinesnakes live in upland, open longleaf pine forests with sandy, well-drained soils and dense grassy groundcover. Adults retreat and hibernate in rotted-out root systems while juveniles use small mammal burrows.

These large, powerful constricting snakes can grow up to 7 feet in length and hiss loudly and vibrate their tails when encountered. They are harmless to humans and feed on rodents like mice, rats and squirrels, as well as rabbits and other small animals.

Critical habitat protection means federal agencies must consult with the Service for any federally funded or permitted projects to make sure activities do not harm the pinesnake or its habitat.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.