Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, September 22, 2014

Contact: Collette Adkins Giese, (651) 955-3821

Kirtland's Snake One Step Closer to Endangered Species Act Protection

Habitat Loss Threatens Rare Reptile in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky  

CHICAGO The Center for Biological Diversity and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reached a settlement today that requires the agency to decide whether the Kirtland’s snake warrants Endangered Species Act protection by Sept. 30, 2017. The rare snake, now found only in scattered populations in the north-central Midwest, has sharply declined due to the loss of its prairie wetland habitat.  

“It’s such good news that the Kirtland’s snake is moving toward the protections it desperately needs,” said Collette Adkins Giese, a Center lawyer and biologist who works to save imperiled amphibians and reptiles. “This struggling snake can be saved by the Endangered Species Act, which is America’s most powerful tool for saving species and putting them on the road to recovery.”

The Kirtland’s snake was once known from more than 100 counties in eight states. Since 1980 it has been observed in only a quarter of those counties. The current distribution of this snake is centered in metropolitan areas in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky. It is often found in vacant lots associated with streams or wetlands in remnants of much larger populations that have been reduced by urbanization and are rapidly dying out.

“The dramatic decline of this snake is largely from habitat destruction that threatens so many rare wildlife species in our nation,” said Adkins Giese. “With the protections of the Endangered Species Act, the Kirtland’s snake would benefit from greater emphasis on saving its vanishing wetland habitats. That makes sense for the snake and for us, because humans need wetlands to prevent floods and filter surface water.”

In 2010 the Center and its allies petitioned for Endangered Species Act protection for the Kirtland’s snake, as well as hundreds of other southeastern aquatic species. In 2011 the Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the snake “may warrant” protection as an endangered species but failed to make the required 12-month finding on whether to give the animal federal protection. Today’s settlement is the result of litigation filed by the Center in June.

The Kirtland’s snake is a small, nonpoisonous snake that feeds on earthworms, slugs and leeches. It is state-listed as endangered in Indiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania (last recorded in 1965), and threatened in lllinois and Ohio. Historically most of the snake’s habitat has been lost to agricultural land use, but as urban and suburban sprawl continue to encroach on formerly undeveloped lands, residential development has become a substantial driver of the snake’s decline. Collection for the pet trade poses another threat to many populations.

TheKirtland’s snake is one of 10 species across the country that will receive protection decisions under today’s settlement. The other species include the Alexander Archipelago wolf from Alaska, the San Bernardino flying squirrel, the Ichetucknee siltsnail from Florida, the black-backed woodpecker from California and South Dakota, which is considered as two “distinct populations,” and four freshwater species from the southeastern United States including two fish, a mussel and a crayfish. The animals are facing extinction for many reasons, chief among them habitat loss from logging and sprawl, groundwater overuse, climate change and pollution.

Under the landmark settlement agreement reached with the Service in 2011 for 757 imperiled species across the country, the Center can seek expedited protection decisions for 10 species per year. To date, 137 species have gained Endangered Species Act protection as the result of the agreement, and another six have been proposed for protection.  

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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