Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, August 22, 2023


Robin Silver, (602) 799-3275,

Lawsuit Challenges Massive Habitat Reduction for Endangered Snakes in Arizona, New Mexico

TUCSON, Ariz.— The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for reducing critical habitat for two endangered snakes in Arizona and New Mexico by more than 90% from its original proposal.

“Fish and Wildlife officials are once again choosing to protect the interests of ranchers, developers and the Arizona Game and Fish Department at the expense of endangered species,” said Center cofounder Robin Silver. “To serve their priority patrons, these federal officials are ignoring the survival and recovery of endangered plants and animals in spite of what science and the law requires. I’m hopeful that a judge will force Fish and Wildlife to follow the law and protect these rare aquatic snakes from extinction.”

Today’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Tucson, says the Fish and Wildlife Service ignored snake experts and its own scientists before shrinking the snakes’ protected habitat in violation of federal environmental laws. Among other things, it excluded hundreds of thousands of acres of ephemeral streams, despite noting in its own proposed rule that both the northern Mexican and narrow-headed garter snakes rely on them.

The two garter snake species were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2014. In July 2013 the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed protecting more than 630,000 acres as critical habitat for the snakes. In 2021 the agency reduced their critical habitat to 447 stream miles for the narrow-headed garter snake and 217 stream miles for the northern Mexican garter snake. That amounted to roughly 44,000 protected acres in Arizona and New Mexico, a more than 90% reduction from the original proposal.

The garter snakes are disappearing as livestock grazing, mining, agriculture, suburban sprawl and climate change-induced drought drain and degrade Southwestern streams. Nonnative bullfrogs and fish introduced by the Arizona Game and Fish Department also threaten the snakes.

Narrow-headed garter snake. Photo credit: 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.

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