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For Immediate Release, May 28, 2008

Contact: Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495

Mexican Garter Snake to Be Considered Again for Endangered Status

TUCSON, Ariz.— In response to a petition and two lawsuits from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it will conduct another status review to determine whether the Mexican garter snake deserves protection as an endangered species. Agency scientists concluded in a previous status review that the snake should be protected but were overturned by disgraced Bush administration appointee Julie MacDonald, who resigned as deputy assistant secretary of the Department of the Interior last year after a scathing report by the Department’s Inspector General found she had bullied agency scientists into changing their findings concerning endangered species.

“While the Bush administration has played politics, the Mexican garter snake has continued to spiral towards extinction,” said Noah Greenwald, science director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re relieved the Mexican garter snake is once again on track to receive the protection it desperately needs to survive.”

Political interference in decisions concerning endangered species has been a persistent problem in the Bush administration and is clearly implicated in the decision over the garter snake. A June 28, 2007 memo by the regional director of Fish and Wildlife admitted that “the Arizona Field Office drafted a 12-month finding that the [Mexican garter snake] warranted listing,” that “the Regional office agreed with that determination” and finally that “It is clear from the administrative record that the DAS [deputy assistant secretary] was involved in changes to drafts of the finding and that the determination was changed to being not warranted.” Although MacDonald has resigned, political interference continues to be a problem at the Department of the Interior. Last week, the Government Accountability Office released a report documenting interference from other political appointees, including ones still employed at Interior.

“Highly endangered species like the Mexican garter snake won’t get a fair shake until the Bush administration is out of office,” said Greenwald. “The Bush administration has been an unmitigated disaster for the nation’s endangered wildlife.”

The Bush administration has listed fewer species under the Endangered Species Act than any other administration since the law was enacted in 1973, to date only listing 60 species compared to 522 under Clinton and 231 under the first Bush president. “The Bush government has closed the door on protection for dozens of endangered species like the Mexican garter snake,” noted Greenwald.

Dependent on the dwindling rivers and streams of the southwest United States and northern Mexico, the Mexican garter snake has been extirpated from most of its U.S. range, including the Colorado, Gila, and much of the Santa Cruz and San Pedro Rivers. The decline of the Mexican garter snake is closely linked to the deteriorating quality of streamside habitats, the disappearance of native frogs and native fishes, and the rampant introduction and spread of nonnative species, such as bullfrogs, crayfish, sunfish, and bass.

“The decline of the Mexican garter snake is symptomatic of an extremely widespread decline in the aquatic fauna of the Southwest,” said Dr. Phil Rosen, a herpetologist at the University of Arizona. “As an important part of the web of life in the Southwest, the Mexican garter snake needs the protection of the Endangered Species Act to survive.”

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