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Housing Developments Threaten Tucson Wildlife

snakeBy Marshal Hedin from San Diego, via Wikimedia Commons

The American dream of owning a suburban home has led millions to settle on the outskirts of Tucson, and today more than 80 per cent of Arizona’s swiftly-growing population lives in the Sonoran Desert.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, this is bad news for the Tucson shovel-nosed snake, a fascinating animal that glides through sandy desert soils and preys on everything from beetle larvae to scorpions with its spade-shaped mouth.

Unfortunately, the snake’s historic range includes portions of northern Pima County, northern and southwestern Pinal County, and southeastern Maricopa County—an area that has been heavily altered by historic agriculture and is rapidly being squeezed by urban sprawl from both Phoenix and Tucson.

The snake’s requirements make it especially vulnerable to habitat destruction from urban sprawl, and experience shows that once the bulldozers move in, the snake does not return. As a result, the Tucson shovel-nosed snake has sadly lost almost three-quarters of its habitat.

To protect the Tucson shovel-nosed snake, the Center and the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection filed a petition to protect it under the Endangered Species Act on December 15, 2004. In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finally found that the snake warrants protection — but merely added the species to the “candidate list” to await actual protection indefinitely.

In 2011 the Center reached a landmark agreement compelling the Service to move forward on protection decisions for 757 species, including the Tucson shovel-nosed snake.

At the time, the Service’s Arizona field supervisor, Steve Spangle, commented: “Our assessment revealed that there is some scientific disagreement over the validity of the subspecies, but one thing is clear – the range and abundance of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake have suffered as a result of the loss of sandy washes and desert floodplain habitat.

“Heightened attention to the snake and its habitat, along with co-operative conservation involving multiple partners, will be essential to reversing its decline in the face of continuing habitat loss.”

Federal listing — a proposal the agreement called for during 2014— could help the snake get the habitat protection its survival requires.

 

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