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Federal agency reconsiders decision not to protect rare Kirtland's snake

The small nonvenomous snake has disappeared from many of the counties where it was once found.
Andrew Hoffman
/
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The small nonvenomous snake has disappeared from many of the counties where it was once found.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is taking another look at protecting the Kirtland’s snake. It’s a rare snake found in counties scattered across the Midwest. It’s named after the same naturalist for which Kirtland’s warbler, a once-endangered songbird, is named.

“It’s a pretty snake. It has a rosy pink underbelly which is maybe its most striking feature,” said Noah Greenwald, the Endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity.

The center is one of the groups that took legal action against the Fish and Wildlife Service after the federal agency denied Endangered Species Act protections for the Kirtland’s snake.

“We didn’t feel that was right. So we ended up challenging that decision that Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to reconsider,” Greenwald said.

In a joint release by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Hoosier Environmental Council, and the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School, the groups said the Kirtland’s snake has disappeared from 79 of the 139 counties where it was once found, explaining why they pursued a legal challenge.

The snake has disappeared completely from Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania have state laws protecting the snake as “endangered” or “threatened,” depending on the state. Michigan’s designation is “endangered.”

“It’s going to be gone if we don’t do more to ensure that it’s protected. Wetlands serve a lot of functions. They don’t just help Kirtland’s snake. They also help many, many other wildlife species,” Greenwald said.

It will take two years for the federal agency to do a new assessment.

Since the last decision not to give the snake protection under the Endangered Species Act, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling removed federal protections for many wetland areas. A few of the states where the snake is still found have laws protecting those wetlands, but not all of them.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.