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For Immediate Release, May 29, 2007

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

Center for Biological Diversity Takes First Step in
Lawsuit to Protect Mexican Garter Snake

Lawsuit Seeks to Overturn Politically Tainted Decision Not to Protect Highly Endangered Snake

TUCSON, Ariz.—The Center for Biological Diversity officially notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today that it will sue to overturn the agency’s September 26, 2006 decision that the Mexican garter snake does not warrant protection as an endangered species. Fish and Wildlife’s decision acknowledged that the snake has been lost from 85 to 90 percent of its U.S. range in Arizona and New Mexico and is threatened by multiple factors, but decided not to protect the species anyway. Anonymous sources inside the agency stated that the decision reversed local field staff and was ordered by disgraced Deputy Assistant Secretary of Fish, Wildlife and Parks Julie MacDonald, who recently resigned after the Department of Interior’s inspector general issued a scathing report documenting her interference in numerous scientific decisions concerning endangered species.

“Like the cactus ferruginous pygmy-owl, desert nesting population of the bald eagle, roundtail chub, and many others, the Mexican garter snake has been unlawfully denied protection by the Bush administration,” stated Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity.

Dependent on the dwindling rivers and streams of the southwest U.S. and northern Mexico, the Mexican garter snake has been extirpated from most of its U.S. range, including the Colorado, Gila, and much of the Santa Cruz and San Pedro Rivers. The decline of the Mexican garter snake is closely linked to the deteriorating quality of streamside habitats, the disappearance of native frogs and native fishes and the rampant introduction and spread of nonnative species, such as bullfrogs, crayfish, sunfish and bass.

“The decline of the Mexican garter snake is symptomatic of an extremely widespread decline in the aquatic fauna of the Southwest,” stated Dr. Phil Rosen, herpetologist with the University of Arizona. “As an important part of the web of life in the Southwest, the Mexican garter snake needs the protection of the Endangered Species Act to survive.”

Julie MacDonald, who likely had a role in denying protection for the garter snake, negatively influenced dozens of decisions concerning endangered species. According to the inspector general’s report, numerous former and current high-level staff of the Fish and Wildlife Service stated that MacDonald’s interference in scientific decisions concerning endangered species was pervasive, aggressive, designed to limit protection and exposed the agency to litigation over poorly supported and politically motivated decisions. The former director of endangered species, for example, concluded that MacDonald “regularly bypassed managers to speak directly with field staff, often intimidating and bullying them into producing documents that had the desired effect” and that “the overall effect was to minimize the Endangered Species Act as much as possible or ensnare it in court litigation, which often happened.”

“The Bush government has closed the door on protection for dozens of endangered species like the Mexican garter snake,” noted Greenwald. “It has listed fewer species under the Endangered Species Act than any other administration since the law was enacted in 1973, to date only listing 57 species compared to 512 under Clinton and 234 under the first Bush president.”

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