Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, December 20, 2018

Contact: Jenny Loda, (510) 844-7100 x 336,

Lawsuit Pushes Trump Administration to Protect Arizona, New Mexico Snakes

Narrow-headed, Northern Mexican Garter Snakes Need Critical Habitat

TUCSON— The Center for Biological Diversity sued the Trump administration today for failing to protect critical habitat for the northern Mexican garter snake and narrow-headed garter snake.

The lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, filed in U.S. District Court in Tucson, notes that populations of both snakes occur at low densities or may already be gone in nearly 90 percent of their historic ranges in Arizona and New Mexico.

After more than a decade of delay, the Fish and Wildlife Service protected the northern Mexican garter snake and narrow-headed garter snake as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2014.

The agency also proposed protecting more than 420,000 acres of critical habitat for the snakes in 2013, but failed to finalize those habitat protections.

“We can’t save these unique, beautiful garter snakes without protecting the riverside habitats where they live,” said Jenny Loda, a Center biologist and attorney working to protect vulnerable amphibians and reptiles. “The Trump administration needs to act now to give these species a fighting chance at survival. Safeguarding the rivers these snakes depend on will also benefit people and other native wildlife that need healthy waterways.”

These aquatic garter snakes are threatened by nonnative species and the loss and degradation of their riverside habitats. The snakes have undergone dramatic, range-wide declines in their native habitats of Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico. They are now almost entirely limited to small, isolated populations at risk of being driven extinct.

Designating critical habitat is an important step toward ensuring the snakes’ survival. Their streamside habitats have been destroyed by livestock grazing, water withdrawal and agricultural and urban sprawl, as well as the introduction and spread of nonnative species like sunfish, bass and crayfish.

Critical habitat designation would help address the numerous threats by requiring federal agencies to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service when their actions may result in damage or destruction of the snakes’ habitats.

“Studies show that species with critical habitat protections are twice as likely to be recovering as those without,” said Loda. “It’s time for the Trump administration to stop dragging its feet and comply with the Endangered Species Act by finalizing habitat protections for these threatened snakes.”

The northern Mexican garter snake historically existed in every county in Arizona, with additional populations in New Mexico and Mexico. It ranges from olive to olive-brown in color and has three bright, lateral stripes. The northern Mexican garter snakes’ habitat requirements include permanent water, vegetative cover and native prey.

The narrow-headed garter snake is widely considered one of the most aquatic garter snakes. This small- to medium-sized garter snake is tan or gray-brown, has an unusually elongated head and brown, black or reddish spots. It lives in the Mogollon Rim in New Mexico and Arizona in clear and rocky stream habitats.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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