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For Immediate Release, July 29, 2008


Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495
Dr. Phil Rosen, University of Arizona, (520) 404-2366

Rare Arizona Snake One Step Closer to Endangered Species Protection:
Tucson Shovel-nosed Snake Imperiled by Urban Sprawl in
Pima, Pinal, and Maricopa Counties

TUCSON, Ariz.— In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced that the Tucson shovel-nosed snake warrants consideration for protection as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act and began a one-year status review.

“The Tucson shovel-nosed snake is in trouble and needs the safety net provided by the Endangered Species Act to survive,” said Noah Greenwald, science director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Development should be sharply curtailed in areas where the Tucson shovel-nosed snake is still found.”

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. Like other shovel-nosed snakes, the Tucson shovel-nosed snake is uniquely adapted to “swim” through sandy soils using its spade-shaped snout, countersunk lower jaw, and valve-like nostrils. In part related to this adaptation, the snake is dependent on very specific habitat requirements, including sandier soils found on the level terrain of valley floors. The valley-floor 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, Tucson, Casa Grande, and other communities, the Tucson shovel-nosed snake has become increasingly rare. It will be at high risk of extinction if proactive measures are not taken to halt urbanization of its habitat,” said Dr. Phil Rosen, herpetologist and assistant professor at the University of Arizona .

Both Pima County and the town of Marana have developed “habitat conservation plans” that included the Tucson shovel-nosed snake, but neither of these plans have been finalized. This fact in part led the Fish and Wildlife Service to conclude that “existing regulatory mechanisms may be inadequate to prevent the progressive decline of populations of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake and its habitat.” One reason the plans were not completed was that the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl was removed from the list of endangered species. As with the Tucson shovel-nosed snake, however, the Fish and Wildlife Service is currently conducting a review of the pygmy owl’s status to determine if it should again be protected as endangered.

“The Tucson shovel-nosed snake, cactus ferruginous pygmy owl, and hundreds of other Sonoran Desert species need habitat protection to survive,” said Greenwald. “Protection of these two Sonoran Desert species would go a long way toward ensuring that remaining intact desert habitat is protected from development.”

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