Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.

For immediate release: September 26, 2006

Contact: Noah Greenwald: 503-484-7495
Dr. Phil Rosen, University of Arizona, 520-404-2366

Mexican Garter Snake Denied Protection
under Endangered Species Act

Like the Pygmy-owl, Mexican Garter Snake Denied Protection
Even Though It Is Headed for Extinction in the U.S.

PHOENIX—Responding to a petition and lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced today that the Mexican Garter Snake does not warrant protection as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In its determination, FWS recognized that the garter snake is extirpated from 85-90 percent of its range in the U.S., declining, and severely threatened by multiple factors in both the U.S. and Mexico. However, the agency still concluded that the species should not be protected.

“As is the case with the Pygmy-owl, the Bush administration is perfectly willing to let the Mexican Garter Snake go extinct in the U.S.,” stated Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity and primary author of the petition. “This willingness is typical of the administration’s disregard for the nation’s wildlife.”

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 non-native species, such as bullfrogs, 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.

Many species of wildlife have been protected in the U.S. despite their occurrence in other countries, including the Gray Wolf, Grizzly Bear, Orca, and Canada Lynx. Thus, the Mexican Garter Snake could have been listed in the U.S., where it is undisputed that the species is headed for extinction. What is particularly disturbing in this case is that FWS recognized that the Garter Snake is also severely threatened by multiple factors in Mexico. Indeed the Mexican Garter Snake is listed as threatened by the Mexican government.

“Given the severity of threats to the survival of the Mexican Garter Snake, it should have been listed across its range, including Mexico,” noted Greenwald. “FWS refused to list the Garter Snake across its range because there haven’t been surveys in Mexico, not because it is secure.”

Listing of the Mexican Garter Snake would 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 toward removal of non-native species, and encouraging additional research on the status of the species.

“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.”

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 also occasionally eat lizards and mice. A picture of the Garter Snake and a map of its range are available on request. The Mexican Garter Snake can still be found in Cienega Creek, the upper Verde River, Scotia Canyon in the Huachucas, and a handful of other areas in Arizona. It is extirpated in New Mexico, where it formerly occurred in the headwaters of the Gila and San Francisco Rivers.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a non-profit conservation organization with more than 25,000 members dedicated to the protection of imperiled species and habitat.


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