Protection site

Tucson shovel-nosed snake needs protection, says Center for Biological Diversity in lawsuit

Jacob Owens

Claiming the federal government failed to protect the Tucson shovel-nosed snake, the Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, asking a court to declare the snake an endangered species.

The 16-page lawsuit, filed last week by the Tucson-based environmental group, is the latest initiative in a nearly two-decade fight to protect the snake.

The striped snake primarily lives in an increasingly developed area between Tucson and Phoenix, Noah Greenwald, the center’s endangered species director, told the Tucson Sentinel.

“This is a species that is clearly at risk and in need of protection,” he said.

The fight to protect the snake began in 2004, and it joined the “candidate list” for protection in 2010, according to the Center for Biological Diversity website.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denied the snake federal protection in 2014 based on claims that the snake’s habitat was larger than it actually was, according to Greenwald. The results were based on a misinterpretation of a genetic study, he said. The organization filed another request for protection in 2020, and its denial led to the ongoing lawsuit, the group said.

The cream-colored snake with black and red stripes tends to live in the plains and has lost almost 40% of its potential habitat due to development, according to a press release from the group.

The animal, at no more than 17 inches, preys on creatures such as scorpions. The non-venomous snake is mainly nocturnal and “swims” on the sandy terrain of the desert floor.

Much of the snake’s remaining habitat is now outside of Pima County, so despite protections from the county’s Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, federal action is still needed, the group said.

“It takes an average of 12 years for the Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure species protection,” Greenwald said. “It’s partly because of that kind of monkey, letting politics get in the way, and that’s really unfortunate. I mean he should have been protected in 2004.”

The situation is similar to that of the ferruginous cactus pygmy owl, which required multiple lawsuits and petitions before the animal was granted protections again last year, Greenwald said.

The center has often been involved in other disputes in the region. A 2018 lawsuit that included the group was resolved earlier this month because a rare wildflower, the Arizona eryngo, was protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The common thread running through many of these struggles is the need to protect the Sonoran Desert, Greenwald told the Sentinel.

“Scientists around the world are sounding the alarm that we are in an extinction crisis,” he said. “And species like the Tucson shovel-nosed snake and the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl and the ciénega plant (Arizona eryngo) – those are all being swept away by this extinction crisis.”

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