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For Immediate Release, November 24, 2008

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

Mexican Garter Snake Warrants Protection as Endangered Species;
But Protection Again Delayed by Bush Administration

Conservation Group Calls on President-elect Obama to
Fix Program for Protecting Species

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 the Mexican garter snake warrants protection as an endangered species, but that such protection is precluded by other actions to list species. Today’s decision continues years of delay in protection for the critically imperiled snake, stretching back more than 20 years to 1985, when the species was recognized as a candidate for protection by the Fish and Wildlife Service, and more recently to the Center’s December 15, 2003 petition.

“Despite recognizing that the Mexican garter snake is near extinction in the United States and severely threatened in Mexico, the Bush administration has again decided to delay protection for the snake,” said Noah Greenwald, biodiversity program director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “A decision to delay is typical of the Administration’s abysmal record protecting endangered species.”

The Administration has listed fewer species under the Endangered Species Act than any other since the law was enacted in 1973. To date, the Bush administration has listed only 61 species, compared to 521 under Clinton and 231 under the first Bush presidency. With today’s decision, there are now 282 species that are candidates for protection. Like the Mexican garter snake, most of these species have been waiting years for protection. The Center has a lawsuit pending in Washington, D.C., arguing that continued delays in protecting these species is illegal, because the Fish and Wildlife Service is not making expeditious progress listing species as required by the Endangered Species Act. The Center is optimistic that listing new species under the Endangered Species Act will again move forward during the Obama administration.

“We look forward to working with an Obama administration to obtain protection for these species as soon as possible,” Greenwald said. “Our goal is to obtain a schedule for protecting all 282 species, including the garter snake, within three years.”

The Mexican garter snake depends on the dwindling rivers and streams of the southwest United States and northern Mexico for its survival. The snake has been extirpated – eliminated, as far as can be determined – 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 non-native 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 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.”

In today’s finding, the Fish and Wildlife Service recognized that the Mexican garter snake is an “indicator species that can be used to gauge the condition of a particular habitat, community, or ecosystem” because of its dependence on native fish and frogs as prey. As such, the loss of the garter snake from most of its habitat in the United States reflects a severe collapse of the food web in Southwest rivers and streams. Indeed, a total of 38 species are endangered because of the collapse of Southwest riverine ecosystems.

The Mexican garter snake still can be found on the Santa Cruz and Verde rivers, as well as Tonto Creek, Oak Creek and Cienega Creek, all in Arizona; and may still occur along the Gila River in New Mexico.

To view today’s announcement see:

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national nonprofit conservation organization with 200,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.


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