CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY
December 15, 2004
Contacts: Noah Greenwald, Ctr. for Biological Diversity, 503-484-7495
PETITION FILED TO PROTECT TUCSON SHOVEL-NOSED SNAKE
RARE SOUTHEASTERN ARIZONA SNAKE IMPERILED BY RAMPANT URBAN SPRAWL IN PIMA, PINAL AND MARICOPA COUNTIES
The Center for Biological Diversity and Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection filed a petition today with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requesting protection for the Tucson Shovel-nosed Snake as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. Under the Act, the Agency has one year to respond to the petition, determining whether the snake warrants protection.
Once a common species of northeastern Pima County and southern Pinal and Maricopa Counties, the Tucson Shovel-nosed Snake is now rarely seen. The primary causes of the snake’s sharp decline are agriculture and urban sprawl. “The Tucson Shovel-nosed Snake is in trouble and needs the safety-net provided by the Endangered Species Act,” states Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity
Like other shovel-nosed snakes, the Tucson Shovel-nosed Snake is uniquely adapted to literally swim through sandy soils using its spade-shaped snout. In part related to this adaptation, the Tucson Shovel-Nose is dependent on very specific habitat requirements, including sandy soils found on level terrain of valley floors. The narrow habitat requirements of the snake make it particularly vulnerable to habitat destruction from either agriculture or urban sprawl. “Because of a combination of historic agriculture and rapid urban sprawl from Phoenix and Tucson, the Tucson shovel-nosed snake has become increasingly rare and is at risk of extinction,” states Dr. Phil Rosen, herpetologist and assistant professor at the University of Arizona.
The snake is considered a “priority vulnerable species” in the draft Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. Although the Plan could eventually provide some protection for the snake, it is unlikely to be sufficient because a majority of the snake’s habitat is outside of Pima County’s jurisdiction. A town of Marana habitat conservation plan is also unlikely to provide adequate protection for the species. “Federal protection is likely to help regional species and habitat plans,” said Carolyn Campbell, Executive Director of the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection. “Listing should mean increased federal funding for conservation measures, research, and public education in support of the regional plans.”
In a related matter, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to respond to a petition to list the Mexican garter snake as threatened or endangered. Like the Tucson shovel-nosed snake, the garter snake is beset by a multitude of threats to its habitat, southwest rivers and streams, and has become increasingly rare. “Many of Arizona’s reptile and amphibian species are at risk of extinction,” concludes Dr. Rosen. “Without greater habitat protection and more effort to control invasive species, we will lose a substantial portion of Arizona’s unique natural heritage.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s lack of response to the garter snake petition is not a surprise. Under the Bush Administration, the agency has continually failed to implement the Endangered Species Act, particularly in regards to protecting new species. To date, the Bush Administration has only protected 31 species, compared to 234 under the first President Bush and 394 during the first Clinton Administration. “President Bush has shown a complete disregard for the Nation’s wildlife and natural resources,” states Greenwald. “Funding for endangered species protection needs to be dramatically increased.”