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SAVING THE MEXICAN GARTER SNAKE

Oases in the desert, Southwestern streams are among the most delicate ecosystems on the planet. In these shallow, ephemeral waters, species like the Mexican garter snake once carved out a precarious existence. But these highly adapted, rare animals are no match for pumping, livestock grazing, and flood control, which have all but dried up most desert rivers. And voracious exotics like bullfrogs, which eat the snakes, have added to the species’ woes.

The Center launched its campaign to protect the Mexican garter snake under the Endangered Species Act in 2003. After the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to respond to our petition to add the garter snake to the endangered species list, we took the case to the courts and reached a settlement agreement requiring a decision from the agency. In common fashion under the Bush administration — whose politicization of science and improper Interior Department actions we helped expose — the agency’s decision ran counter to the recommendations of its own biologists. When the agency ruled to deny the snake protection, the report accompanying the decision nevertheless recognized that the snake is declining, severely threatened, and extirpated from 85 to 90 percent of its U.S. range. In 2007 the Center filed suit against the Fish and Wildlife Service to overturn the decision denying the snake protection, and in May of the next year, the Service finally announced that it would revisit the species’ status. But appallingly, after more than five years of ignoring the snake’s need, in November 2008 the Service once again denied the species federal safeguards, making it a mere “candidate” for protection.

Fortunately, in 2011 the Center reached a landmark agreement with the Fish and Wildlife Service compelling it to move forward on protections for this snake — plus 756 other species that couldn’t wait for protection decisions much longer.

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KEY DOCUMENTS
2003 Listing petition

ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT PROFILE

ACTION TIMELINE

NATURAL HISTORY

MEDIA
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Search our newsroom for the Mexican garter snake

RELATED ISSUES
Stopping the Rosemont Copper Mine
Borderlands and Boundary Waters
Rivers
The Endangered Species Act

Contact: Noah Greenwald
Photo © Erik Enderson