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This rare snake will be considered for the endangered species list

 Southern hognose snake
Patric Pierson Hill
Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission
Southern hognose snake

One of the rarest snakes in North America will now be considered for inclusion on the list of endangered species. This is a reversal of the position held by federal environmental regulators.

It has the rather unenticing name of southern hognose snake. Its numbers have declined precipitously because of introduced predators and destruction of its habitat. The tiny, non-poisonous snake has a habit of rolling over and playing dead — like a possum — when threatened.

TheCenter for Biological Diversity says it has gotten the federal government to reconsider its previous stance on not listing the snake as endangered. Chelsea Stewart-Fusek, an attorney with the environmental advocacy group, says they petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the snake in 2012.

"Our lawsuit alleged that the service failed to follow the best available science in making that decision," she said. "And before any briefing in court, they decided to reconsider protection for the snake. So we have an agreement with them that stipulates that they will make a new finding on the species by August, 2025."

Stewart-Fusek says it would also increase protections for Florida's native longleaf pine forests, which have been decimated by clear cutting and suppression of natural fires.

"Among other things, listing the southern hognose snake as an endangered species would require the government to develop a recovery plan, which could include habitat protection for the longleaf pine forest," she said. "It would also require that developers minimize the harm their projects could cause to the snake and its habitat."

 Map of the range of the southern hognose snake
Savannah River Ecology Laboratory
Map of the range of the southern hognose snake

The longleaf pine ecosystem, a fire-dependent forest habitat, once covered 92 million acres along the Atlantic and Gulf Coast regions. By the 21st century, 97 percent of longleaf pine forests had been lost to forest clearing and fire suppression.

The added protections would also ban the capture of the harmless snakes for the pet trade.

"Every extinction impacts the ecosystems that both wildlife and humans rely on. And there's a recent study that came out that found that 40% of animals in this country and 34% of plants in the United States are at risk of extinction, and 41% of ecosystems are facing collapse," Stewart-Fusek said. "So, in the face of climate change, we really need to be doing everything in our power to address the biodiversity loss crisis, and, and every extinction that can be prevented needs to be prevented."

According to the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory at the University of Georgia, "southern hognose snakes were historically found in the Coastal Plain of the eastern United States from southern North Carolina to southern Mississippi and in most parts of Florida. However, this species has declined in recent years (see Conservation Status, below) and is now only found in scattered locations in South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida."

Copyright 2023 WUSF 89.7. To see more, visit WUSF 89.7.

Steve Newborn is WUSF's assistant news director as well as a reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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