Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, July 25, 2019


Jenny Loda, (510) 844-7100 x 336,

Threatened Snakes to Get Protected Habitat in Arizona, New Mexico

Narrow-headed, Northern Mexican Garter Snakes Threatened by Habitat Loss, Nonnative Species

TUCSON, Ariz.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today agreed to designate protected critical habitat for the narrow-headed and northern Mexican garter snakes, marking a legal victory for the Center for Biological Diversity.

In 2013 the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed protecting more than 420,000 acres of critical habitat for the snakes in Arizona and New Mexico, but it failed to finalize those protections. Today’s victory ensures protections will move forward.

“It’s fantastic these unique, beautiful garter snakes will finally get the habitat protection they need,” said Jenny Loda, a Center biologist and attorney working to protect vulnerable amphibians and reptiles. “For these snakes to survive and recover, we have to protect the river banks where they live. Safeguarding these rivers will also benefit people and other native wildlife that need healthy waterways.”

Today’s victory sets a deadline of April 13, 2021 for a final rule designating critical habitat for the two snakes. A revised proposed critical habitat rule will be issued April 13, 2020, and will be subject to public comment.

Critical habitat designation will help address the numerous threats facing these snakes by requiring federal agencies to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service when their actions may result in damage or destruction of the snakes’ habitats. Both snakes are highly aquatic, and their desert river habitats face multiple threats, including livestock grazing, water withdrawal and invasive species.

The Center recently notified officials from the Gila and Apache-Sitgreaves national forests of the need to reopen consultation with the Service to address livestock grazing’s impacts on these snakes and other species. Designation of critical habitat will help inform this process and ensure the snakes get the protection they need.

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

The northern Mexican garter snake historically existed in every county in Arizona, with additional populations in New Mexico and Mexico. It ranges from olive to olive-brown in color and has three bright, lateral stripes. The snake requires permanent water, vegetative cover and native prey in its habitat.

The narrow-headed garter snake is widely considered one of the most aquatic garter snakes. This small- to medium-sized garter snake is tan or gray-brown and has an unusually elongated head and brown, black or reddish spots. It lives in the Mogollon Rim in New Mexico and Arizona in clear and rocky stream habitats.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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