Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, September 29, 2016

Contact: Elise Bennett, (727) 755-6950 or

Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake Gains Endangered Species Act Protection

Snake Threatened by Habitat Destruction in Midwest, Great Lakes States

MINNEAPOLIS— Following a landmark settlement agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity that expedites protection decisions for 757 species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today protected the eastern massasauga rattlesnake as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. This shy, nonaggressive snake has been waiting for protection for more than 30 years.

“The destruction of wetlands and surrounding uplands in the Midwest by urban and agricultural sprawl is leaving the eastern massasauga with few places to live,” said Elise Bennett, a Center attorney who works to protect imperiled reptiles and amphibians. “These long-awaited Endangered Species Act protections can save the massasauga from extinction by saving the habitat it needs to survive.”

Draining wetlands for farms, roads and urban development has eliminated much of the habitat massasaugas use for food and shelter. Roads and other obstacles also prevent them from moving between wetland and upland habitats, which isolates remaining populations, leading to their demise. Greatly misunderstood, these snakes also fall victim to people who kill them out of unfounded fear. As urban development intrudes on the snakes’ habitat, they become more vulnerable to such persecution.

Eastern massasaugas are small, thick-bodied snakes with heart-shaped heads and attractive patterns of dark blotches and spots. They can be found in wetlands across the Midwest and Great Lakes, including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ontario, Canada. Within this expansive range, the numbers of snakes has steadily dropped. The species is now extirpated from 40 percent of the counties it historically inhabited.

“It's too bad this beautiful, misunderstood snake had to wait more than 30 years to get  Endangered Species Act protection, but I'm glad it finally has,” said Bennett. “Eastern massasaugas are important and deserve our respect. With protection, they have a shot at survival and recovery.”

To date the Center’s 2011 settlement agreement has resulted in endangered species protections for 176 species and proposed protections for another 21 species. A recent study found that active public involvement in the Endangered Species Act listing process has benefitted many imperiled species by accelerating these crucial protections. Read more about the Center’s 757 agreement and its campaign to address the amphibian and reptile extinction crisis.

The Fish and Wildlife Service identified the snake as a “candidate” for federal Endangered Species Act protection in 1982. It is listed as “endangered,” “threatened” or a “species of special concern” in every state or province in which it lives.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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