TUCSON, Ariz. — The Center for Biological Diversity filed a 60-day notice today against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to respond to a petition to protect the Tucson shovel-nosed snake under the Endangered Species Act. Under the Act, the Agency has one year to respond to the petition, filed December 15, 2004, determining whether the snake warrants protection.
Once a common species of northeastern Pima County and southern Pinal and Maricopa Counties, the Tucson shovel-nosed snake is now rarely seen. The primary causes of the snake’s sharp decline are agriculture and urban sprawl. “The Tucson shovel-nosed snake is in trouble and needs the safety net provided by the Endangered Species Act,” states Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Development should be sharply curtailed in areas where the Tucson shovel-nosed snake is still found.”
Like other shovel-nosed snakes, the Tucson shovel-nosed snake is uniquely adapted to literally swim through sandy soils using its spade-shaped snout, countersunk lower jaw, and valve-like nostrils. In part related to this adaptation, the Tucson Shovel-Nose is dependent on very specific habitat requirements, including sandier soils found on level terrain of valley floors. The valley-floor habitat requirements of the snake make it particularly vulnerable to habitat destruction from either agriculture or urban sprawl.
“Because of a combination of historic agriculture and rapid urban sprawl from Phoenix and Tucson, the Tucson shovel-nosed snake has become increasingly rare. It will be at high risk of extinction if proactive measures are not attached to the urbanization process,” said Dr. Phil Rosen, herpetologist and assistant professor at the University of Arizona.
The snake is considered a “priority vulnerable species” in the draft Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan & Multiple Species Conservation Plan. Although the Plan could eventually provide some protection for the snake, it is unlikely to be sufficient because a majority of the snake’s habitat is outside of Pima County’s jurisdiction. A town of Marana habitat conservation plan is also unlikely to provide adequate protection for the species. “Increased conservation attention can only help the species and support local habitat planning efforts so it’s unfortunate the petition was ignored,” said Carolyn Campbell, Executive Director of the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection. “Listing should mean increased federal funding for conservation measures, research, and public education in support of the MSCP,” added David Hogan, Director of the Center’s Urban Wildlands Program.
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s lack of response to the petition is not unexpected. Under the Bush administration, the agency has continually failed to implement the Endangered Species Act, particularly in regards to protecting new species. To date, the Bush administration has only protected 39 species, compared to 234 under the first President Bush and 512 during the Clinton administration. “President Bush has shown a complete disregard for the nation’s wildlife and natural resources,” said Greenwald. “Funding for endangered species protection and research needs to be dramatically increased.”