A small fish-eating snake has received other critical habitat designations in New Mexico and Arizona under the Endangered Species Act.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service issued a final rule in the Federal Register this week, identifying 23,785 acres of critical habitat for the Garter Snake in five counties in Arizona and three counties in New Mexico (Grant, Catron and Hidalgo counties). The majority of critical habitat lands are federal, but about a quarter are privately owned. The Glenwood State Fish Hatchery is also included in critical habitat, although the snake was not found on the property.
The advisory states that “Narrow-headed Garter Snakes are primarily found in rocky expanses of upstream canyon-related streams that have perennial flow or spatially limited intermittent flow that is predominantly perennial.” He rarely ventures far from water.
The garter snake has been classified as endangered since 2014, its population has declined significantly over the past half century.
This population decline occurred as the species of fish it feeds on declined and non-native aquatic predators became more common.
The area of critical habitat designation includes 447 miles of watercourses, according to the advisory. This critical habitat is found in the Gila River, San Francisco River, Salt River, and Verde River watersheds where the snake is known to be present. Stretches of streams with an abundance of non-native aquatic predators were not included.
Of the eight units of critical habitat, two are located in New Mexico. These include the Upper Gila River Subbasin unit west of Silver City and the San Francisco River Subbasin unit in Catron County. A total of 12,900 acres in New Mexico is included in critical habitat.
The Center for Biological Diversity has spent nearly two decades lobbying for the protection of the snake. In 2003, the Center for Biological Diversity requested that the garter snake and the northern Mexican garter snake be listed under the Endangered Species Act. The two snakes were finally listed as endangered in 2014 following lawsuits filed by the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Protecting these rivers will make a real difference to the garter snake,” said Brian Segee, the group’s legal director for endangered species, in a press release. “The only way to save these riverine snakes is to protect the places where they live.”
Segee said protecting rivers also benefits other animals, including humans.
“Protection should have come sooner for the garter snake,” he said. “Now we need to focus on saving and restoring our rivers to keep this snake swimming forever. “