Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, June 14, 2021


Ryan Shannon, (971) 717-6407,

Legal Action Taken to Defend Essential Black Pinesnake Habitat in Alabama, Mississippi

MOBILE, Ala.— The Center for Biological Diversity today intervened in a lawsuit filed by a conservative legal group that aims to strip federal protections from some of the last, best remaining habitat for the threatened black pinesnake.

“Black pinesnakes have already lost more than 95% of their native longleaf pine habitat. They can’t afford to lose what little remains in Alabama and Mississippi,” said Ryan Shannon, a staff attorney at the Center. “Camouflaged like a burnt branch, this striking, jet-black snake is a powerful symbol of the longleaf pine forests that once blanketed most of the Southeast and the frequent fires that maintained them.”

The southeastern longleaf pine forests the black pinesnake calls home have been reduced to less than 5% of their historic extent by agriculture and logging, fire suppression and urbanization. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service first identified the snake as needing protection in 1982, but it took a petition and lawsuit from the Center for it to finally get protected in 2015.

The Center was forced to sue the Service again to obtain legally required critical habitat protections for the species. In 2020 the Service designated 324,679 acres of critical habitat for the black pinesnake. The designation protects eight units of critical habitat, two of which are located in Clarke County, Alabama.

Today’s filing responds to a lawsuit filed by the Pacific Legal Foundation — the latest in a line of similar cases brought by the extreme private-property rights group — that focuses on these two units. The lawsuit seeks to strip the black pinesnake of protections that preserve areas essential to the species’ survival and recovery.

“We’ve worked to protect the black pinesnake for more than 17 years. We can’t let that work be undone by this cynical suit,” said Shannon.

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. Species with designated critical habitat are more than twice as likely to be recovering than those without.

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.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons/John Sullivan. 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.

center locations