The sound of a rattlesnake's shaking tail can evoke a visceral response of fear in almost anyone. But in reality, snakes like the eastern massasauga have more reason to fear us than we have to fear them. The development of farms, roads and homes has drained this species' wetland habitat so much that the snake has been eliminated throughout most of its former home.
Although the eastern massasauga can still be found in several eastern states and parts of Canada, its actual numbers are quite small. It's found in isolated populations throughout its range and is currently considered imperiled in every state and province it occupies. The more its marshy haunts are drained and developed, the more the snake is pushed onto islands of habitat where survival is difficult. Its severe decline is a warning bell tolling the loss of North American wetlands.
The eastern massasauga was first listed as a candidate species in 1982. Candidate designation provides no protection for species, and species can remain in limbo on the list for years or even decades; under the second Bush administration, the number of species protected dropped to the lowest figure since the Endangered Species Act became law. So in 2004 the Center filed a petition to protect the eastern massasauga as part of our large-scale candidate petition project, aimed at forcing the government to make progress in addressing its huge backlog of candidate species — including the massasauga.
Thanks in part to the Center's 2004 petition and our landmark 757 agreement , in October 2016 the eastern massasauga finally gained Endangered Species Act protection as a “threatened” species. Now the Center will ensure this stunning rattlesnake receives all the protections it deserves.
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