TUCSON, Ariz.— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice today of its intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for once again denying protection to Tucson shovel-nosed snakes under the Endangered Species Act. In response to a September 2020 petition from the Center, the Service denied protection to the species for the second time in September 2021.
“The lovely Tucson shovel-nosed snake needs protection from massive urban sprawl from Phoenix and Tucson,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “Protecting this snake will mean protecting more of the natural desert we all love.”
The Center first petitioned for protection of the snake in 2004. In response, the Service found the snake warranted endangered species protection in 2010 but said such protections were precluded by its work to protect other species. In 2014 the agency reversed course and found the snake didn’t warrant protection. In doing so, however, it misinterpreted a genetics study to find the snake had a much larger range than previously thought and therefore didn’t need protection. That conclusion was directly refuted in a letter from the preeminent expert on the snake, the late Phil Rosen, Ph.D. In denying protection once more in September, the Service ignored this new information.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is badly in need of reform, but so far we haven’t seen any effort to do so by the Biden administration,” said Greenwald. “It’s not just this little snake that has been wrongly denied protection. Over the years the agency has refused to list dozens of species protections despite clear imperilment, including wolverines and pygmy owls. Even when the agency does protect species, it often takes far too long, sometimes more than a decade.”
The striking Tucson shovel-nosed snake is characterized by alternating black-and-red stripes over its cream-colored body. It has a small range limited to portions of Pima, Pinal and Maricopa counties in an area sometimes referred to as the “Sun Corridor Megapolitan” for its rapid urbanization. Making matters worse, the snake only occurs on flat valley bottoms that are prime development areas.
Like other shovel-nosed snakes, the Tucson shovel-nosed snake is uniquely adapted to swim through sandy soils using its spade-shaped snout. According to a study by Rosen and Center Senior Scientist Curt Bradley, the snake has already lost 39% of its historic habitat to agriculture and urban development; the vast majority of its remaining habitat is unprotected and vulnerable.