For Immediate Release, April 27, 2020

Contact:

Jenny Loda, (515) 441-1636, jloda@biologicaldiversity.org

Critical Habitat Proposed for Threatened Snakes in Arizona, New Mexico

TUCSON, Ariz.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed today to protect 18,701 acres of critical habitat for narrow-headed garter snakes and 27,784 acres of critical habitat for the northern Mexican garter snakes in Arizona and New Mexico.

“It’s disappointing that the latest proposal safeguards far less habitat than previously outlined, but we’re relieved these snakes will finally get some protected acreage,” said Jenny Loda, a Center for Biological Diversity biologist and attorney working to protect vulnerable amphibians and reptiles. “These two snakes have been close to extinction for years. Safeguarding the riverbanks where they live will also help people and other native wildlife that need healthy waterways.”

In 2013 the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed protecting more than 420,000 acres of critical habitat for the snakes, but failed to finalize the proposal, leading the Center to sue last year. The lawsuit led to an agreement resulting in today’s proposal. Under the agreement, the Service will finalize its proposed rule by April 13, 2021.

With this critical habitat designation, federal agencies must consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service when their actions may result in damage to or destruction of the snakes’ habitat. Both snakes are highly aquatic, and their desert river habitats face multiple threats, including livestock grazing, water withdrawal and invasive species.

The Center recently sued the Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to prevent livestock from damaging rivers and streams that are home to these two snakes in the Gila and Apache-Sitgreaves national forests.

The snakes have lost nearly 90% of their historic ranges in Arizona and New Mexico and now live only in small, isolated populations at immediate risk of extinction.

Background

Northern Mexican garter snakes once lived throughout Arizona, with additional populations in New Mexico and Mexico. They range from olive to olive-brown in color and have three bright, lateral stripes. The animals require permanent water, vegetative cover and native prey in their habitat.

Narrow-headed garter snakes are widely considered to be among the most aquatic of garter snakes. These small- to medium-sized garter snakes are tan or gray brown and have unusually elongated heads and brown, black or reddish spots. They live in the Mogollon Rim in New Mexico and Arizona, in clear and rocky stream habitats.

The proposed critical habitat for northern Mexican garter snakes is in La Paz, Mohave, Yavapai, Gila, Cochise, Santa Cruz and Pima counties in Arizona and in Grant County in New Mexico. The proposed critical habitat for narrow-headed garter snakes is in Greenlee, Graham, Apache, Yavapai, Gila and Coconino counties in Arizona, as well as in Grant, Hidalgo and Catron counties in New Mexico.

Narrow_headed_garter_snake_Pierson_Hill_FPWC_Media_Use_ok.jpg
Narrow-headed garter snake. Photo courtesy of Pierson Hill. Image is available for media use.

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.