Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.


Contact: Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 499-9185

Critical Habitat Reinstated for Alameda Whipsnake
Fish and Wildlife Slashes Original Protected Habitat Area by More Than Half

The Bush administration continued its trend of avoiding or cutting critical habitat protections for imperiled species, with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) today designating a dramatically reduced area of protected critical habitat for the threatened Alameda Whipsnake in Contra Costa, Alameda, San Joaquin and Santa Clara counties. Today’s 154,834-acre critical habitat designation leaves out more than half the areas the USFWS previously determined were essential to the survival and recovery of the whipsnake and excludes tens of thousands of acres of occupied whipsnake habitat at risk of development.

“Critical habitat protection is essential because no species can survive without its habitat intact,” said Jeff Miller, spokesperson for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Although development has so fragmented suitable Alameda Whipsnake habitat that only five isolated populations remain, the Fish and Wildlife Service has again caved to developers and excluded large amounts of habitat essential for the survival of this species. Protection of this habitat is important not just for whipsnakes, but to also maintain open space and preserve disappearing sage scrub, chaparral and grassland ecosystems.”

The USFWS originally designated more than 407,000 acres of critical habitat for the whipsnake in 2003, following settlement of a lawsuit the Center for Biological Diversity and Christians Caring for Creation brought against the USFWS in 1999. The Homebuilders Association and other development interests filed a lawsuit in 2001 that challenged the economic analysis of the critical habitat designation. The Center intervened in the case, and although the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California vacated the critical habitat in 2003, it ordered the USFWS to re-designate the critical habitat. In October 2005 the USFWS proposed to designate only 203,000 acres of critical habitat, less than half the original acreage.

Today’s designation excludes more than 48,500 additional acres of occupied and suitable whipsnake habitat, including 42,731 acres in eastern Contra Costa County that is threatened by development and proposed for coverage in a draft East Contra Costa County Habitat Conservation Plan, such as county-owned land and the cities of Brentwood, Clayton, Oakley and Pittsburg. It also excludes an undeterminable amount of public lands managed by the Contra Costa Water District and East Bay Regional Park District, an important habitat connective corridor in Niles Canyon, and lands within two controversial golf course/luxury home development projects: the Blue Rock (Stonebrae) Country Club in the Hayward hills and the Gateway/Montanera project east of the Caldecott Tunnel in Orinda.

The cornerstone of the Endangered Species Act has been the protection of “critical habitat,” which safeguards essential habitat from destruction or adverse modification and also protects suitable habitat that is not currently occupied by the species. Scientific studies show that species with their critical habitats protected by the Act are twice as likely to be recovering as those that do not (see The USFWS has no documentation to support its absurd claims that critical habitat does not provide additional protection to species or that these protections are outweighed by the costs of such designations (see

Under the Bush administration, the USFWS has consistently slashed the size of proposed critical habitats. From 2000 to 2003 the USFWS shrunk critical habitats by an average of 75 percent. In 2005 alone the USFWS slashed critical habitat protections for the threatened California Red-legged Frog (cut more than 80 percent); the endangered Sonoma population of the California Tiger Salamander (cut from a proposal of 73,336 acres to 0 acres); the threatened Central California population of the California Tiger Salamander (cut almost 50 percent); and the threatened Western Snowy Plover (cut nearly in half with no critical habitat in Bay Area, which has one of the largest plover populations).

The Alameda Whipsnake (Masticophis lateralis euryxanthus) is a slender snake with black dorsal coloring and distinctive yellow-orange racing stripes down each side. Whipsnakes are the fastest moving snake in the West, holding their head high off the ground in a cobra-like manner while hunting for prey such as lizards, small mammals, snakes and nesting birds. Whipsnakes occupy a home range of 5 to 20 acres and can move more than 4 miles from core scrub habitats while traversing their territories or dispersing. Whipsnakes utilize coastal scrub and chaparral for cover, adjacent grassland as foraging habitat, and rock outcrops for basking to regulate their body temperature.

The Alameda Whipsnake was listed as a federally threatened species in December 1997. Whipsnake habitat has been severely reduced and fragmented by urban sprawl, road construction, livestock grazing and fire suppression. Urban development and roads have fragmented the whipsnake into five isolated populations. The USFWS designated six critical habitat units in the East Bay corresponding to the remaining whipsnake populations and one unit which functions as a connective corridor:

Tilden-Briones (Unit 1) - 34,119 acres in Contra Costa County, south of Hwy 4, north of Hwy 24 and west of Hwy 680 to the East Bay hills;

Oakland-Las Trampas (Unit 2) - 24,436 acres south of Hwy 24, north of Hwy 580, east of Hwy 13 and west of Hwy 680;

Hayward-Pleasanton Ridge (Unit 3) – 25,966 acres from the Hayward Hills to Pleasanton Ridge, west of Hwy 680 and south of Hwy 580;

Mount Diablo-Black Hills (Unit 4) – 23,225 acres including Mount Diablo State Park and surrounding lands;

Sunol-Cedar Mountain (Unit 5a) - 24,723 acres east of Lake Del Valle along Cedar Mountain Ridge and Crane Ridge to Corral Hollow west of Hwy 580;

Alameda Creek (Unit 5b) – 18,214 acres east of Alameda Creek, northeast of Calaveras Reservoir, south of Sunol, extending into southern Alameda and northern Santa Clara counties; and

Caldecott Tunnel (Unit 6) – 4,151 acres connecting Units 1 and 2.

The final critical habitat designation can be found at:


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