Following a landmark settlement agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity that expedites protection decisions for 757 species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today protected the eastern massasauga rattlesnake as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. This shy, nonaggressive snake has been waiting for protection for more than 30 years.
“The destruction of wetlands and surrounding uplands in the Midwest by urban and agricultural sprawl is leaving the eastern massasauga rattlesnake with few places to live,”
said Elise Bennett, a Center attorney who works to protect imperiled reptiles and amphibians.
“These long-awaited Endangered Species Act protections can save the massasauga from extinction by saving the habitat it needs to survive.”
Draining wetlands for farms, roads and urban development has eliminated much of the habitat massasaugas use for food and shelter. Roads and other obstacles also prevent them from moving between wetland and upland habitats, which isolates remaining populations, leading to their demise. Greatly misunderstood, these snakes also fall victim to people who kill them out of unfounded fear. As urban development intrudes on the snakes’ habitat, they become more vulnerable to such persecution.
Eastern massasaugas are small, thick-bodied snakes with heart-shaped heads and attractive patterns of dark blotches and spots. They can be found in wetlands across the Midwest and Great Lakes, including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ontario, Canada. Within this expansive range, the numbers of snakes has steadily dropped. The species is now extirpated from 40 percent of the counties it historically inhabited.
“It’s too bad this beautiful, misunderstood snake had to wait more than 30 years to get Endangered Species Act protection, but I’m glad it finally has,”
“Eastern massasaugas are important and deserve our respect. With protection, they have a shot at survival and recovery.”