For immediate release: January 4, 2006
Contact: Noah Greenwald: 503-484-7495
Phoenix, AZ. Responding to a petition and lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced today that the Mexican garter snake may warrant protection as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and announced that they will begin a status review to be completed by September 2006. The species is an aquatic garter snake with a range-wide distribution in Arizona, southwest New Mexico, and Mexico. It is one of hundreds of native riparian species that are threatened by the destruction and degradation of rivers, streams and springs in the Southwest. The Center petitioned for protection of the snake December 15, 2003.
Populations of the Mexican garter snake are severely fragmented and isolated due to loss and destruction of suitable habitat, which consists of riparian areas with permanent water, streamside vegetation for cover, and native prey species.
“The decline of the Mexican garter snake is symptomatic of an extremely widespread decline in the aquatic fauna of the Southwest,” states Dr. Phil Rosen, herpetologist with the University of Arizona.
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 non-native species, such as Bullfrog, Sunfish and Bass.
“Widespread degradation of southwest rivers and introduction of dozens of exotic species necessitates protection of the Mexican garter snake,” states Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist for the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Endangered Species Act is an important safety net for the nation’s wildlife and could help save the Mexican garter snake.”
Livestock grazing, urbanization, pollution, loss of native prey species, and exotic species have resulted in the loss of greater than 90 percent of the Southwest’s riparian habitat and the listing of 30 species under the ESA.
“Southwest rivers have been under massive assault for over a century,” states Greenwald. “To protect southwest riparian species, livestock must be removed from all southwest rivers and streams on public lands, instream flows must be established, and further introduction of non-native species must be prohibited.”
Listing of the Mexican garter snake will facilitate conservation of riparian habitats and species by recognizing the breadth and depth of the problem facing the Southwestern aquatic ecosystem, prohibiting or better regulating activities that result in damage to habitat, such as livestock grazing and groundwater pumping, directing federal funding towards removal of non-native species, and encouraging additional research on the status of the species.
“Without ESA listing and critical habitat designation, the Mexican garter snake population will continue in its dangerous trajectory of local extirpations and decreased range,” concludes Greenwald.
Mexican garter snakes reach a maximum length of one meter, range in color from olive to olive-brown to olive-gray, and have three yellow stripes that run the length of the body. They feed primarily on native frogs and fish, but will also occasionally eat lizards and mice. A picture of the garter snake and a map of its range are available on request.