Feds Propose Critical Habitat for Black Pine Snakes

10 March 2015 | Center for Biological Diversity News Release

JACKSON, Miss.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed to protect 338,100 acres of critical habitat in Mississippi and Alabama for black pine snakes, whose southeastern, longleaf pine forests have been reduced to less than 5 percent of their historic extent. The snake depends on these forests, which are being lost to agriculture and pine plantations, fire suppression and urbanization. Black pine snakes were proposed for Endangered Species Act protection last fall as the result of a settlement agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity that speeds protection decisions for 757 imperiled species around the country.

“Destruction of the South’s longleaf pine forests is driving native wildlife toward extinction,” said the Center’s Collette Adkins, an attorney and biologist focused on the protection of rare reptiles and amphibians. “Habitat protections for this beautiful snake will safeguard its future, along with the future of the South’s last longleaf pine forests.”

In the range of the black pine snake, longleaf pine is now largely confined to isolated patches on private land and the DeSoto National Forest in Mississippi. Habitat has been eliminated and degraded through land-use conversions, primarily for urban development, agriculture and pine plantations. Most of the remaining patches of longleaf pine on private land are fragmented, degraded, second-growth forests.

“Designation of critical habitat is absolutely necessary for the survival of the black pine snake,” said Adkins. “Like the red cockaded woodpecker, gopher tortoise and dozens of other wildlife species in the Southeast, the black pine snake depends on longleaf pine forests. The South is losing its natural heritage through the destruction of this critically endangered ecosystem.”

Black pine snakes live in upland, open longleaf pine forests with sandy, well-drained soils and dense grassy or herbaceous groundcover. Adults retreat and hibernate in rotted-out root systems while juveniles use small mammal burrows. These large, powerful constricting snakes can grow up to 7 feet in length and hiss loudly and vibrate their tails when encountered. They are harmless to humans and feed on rodents like mice, rats and squirrels, as well as rabbits and other small animals.

The rule announced today proposes to protect 338,100 acres in Forrest, George, Greene, Harrison, Jones, Marion, Perry, Stone and Wayne counties in Mississippi and in Clarke County, Ala. Federal lands make up more than 70 percent of the proposed protected acreage. The critical habitat proposal follows the Service’s October 2014 proposal to list the black pine snake as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 825,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Contact: Collette Adkins, (651) 955-3821, cadkins@biologicaldiversity.org


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