Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places of western North America
and the Pacific through science, policy, education, and environmental law.


Additional federal protection for East Bay snake

More Information:
Golden State Biodiversity Initiative, Alameda whipsnake

Contact: Jeff Miller (510) 841-0812
Center for Biological Diversity

Brendan Cummings (510) 848-5486

The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) today finalized designation of "critical habitat" pursuant to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for the imperiled Alameda whipsnake (Masticophis lateralis euryxanthus). 406,598 acres of land in Contra Costa, Alameda, San Joaquin, and Santa Clara Counties have been identified as habitat critical for the recovery of the threatened whipsnake. The designation follows settlement of a lawsuit brought against FWS in November 1999 by the Center for Biological Diversity. The critical habitat protections go into effect November 1, 2000 and could halt approval of several proposed development projects in the East Bay.

"No species can survive without its habitat intact" said Jeff Miller, spokesman for the Center for Biological Diversity. "This is an important layer of protection for the whipsnake. If enforced properly, it may give the species a chance of recovery."

The whipsnake, listed as a threatened species under the ESA in December 1997, occupies northern coastal scrub and chaparral habitats primarily in Contra Costa and Alameda Counties. Whipsnake habitat has been severely reduced and fragmented by urban sprawl, road construction, livestock grazing, and fire suppression.

The whipsnake is a slender snake with black dorsal coloring and distinctive yellow-orange racing stripes down each side. Adults grow from three to four feet in length. The Alameda whipsnake is extremely fast moving and holds its head high off the ground in a cobra-like manner while hunting for potential prey, which includes lizards, small mammals, snakes, and nesting birds. Whipsnakes occupy a home range from 5 to 20 acres and can move up to a mile while traversing their territories. The whipsnake utilizes coastal scrub and chaparral for cover, adjacent grassland as foraging habitat, and rock outcrops for basking to regulate its body temperature.

The ESA defines critical habitat as the "areas essential for the survival and recovery of species." Federal agencies may not authorize, permit, or fund projects which destroy or "adversely modify" critical habitat for a listed species. Many proposed developments in whipsnake habitat need federal permits from the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers and the critical habitat designation will require consultation with FWS to evaluate their impact on the snake's habitat.

Urban development and major highways have fragmented the whipsnake into five remaining population centers: (1) Sobrante Ridge, Tilden/Wildcat Regional Parks area to Briones Hills, in Contra Costa County (Tilden-Briones population); (2) Oakland Hills, Anthony Chabot area to Las Trampas Ridge, in Contra Costa County (Oakland-Las Trampas population); (3) Hayward Hills, Palomares area to Pleasanton Ridge, in Alameda County (Hayward-Pleasanton Ridge population); (4) Mount Diablo vicinity and the Black Hills, in Contra Costa County (Mount Diablo-Black Hills population); and (5) Wauhab Ridge, Del Valle area to the Cedar Mountain Ridge, in Alameda County (Sunol-Cedar Mountain population).

Photos and further information regarding the critical habitat designation and the biology of the whipsnake are available online at www.r1.fws/gov/news. A map of the approximate range of the whipsnake is available upon request.


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