Declines Driven by Destruction of Southeast’s Longleaf Pine Ecosystem

JACKSON, Miss.— In accordance with an agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity that speeds protection decisions for 757 species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today protected black pine snakes as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The snake depends on longleaf pine forests in the Southeast that are being lost through fire suppression, urban development and conversion to agriculture and pine plantations. The snake has been waiting for protection since 1982.

“The protection of yet another longleaf-dependent wildlife species should be a wake-up call that the Southeast is losing its natural heritage through the destruction of this critically endangered ecosystem,” said the Center’s Collette Adkins, an attorney and biologist who works to protect rare reptiles and amphibians. “Endangered Species Act protection for this beautiful snake will help safeguard its future, along with the future of the South’s once-extensive longleaf pine forests.”

The decline of the black pine snake mirrors the decline of longleaf pine forests, which have been reduced to less than 5 percent of their original extent. In the range of the black pine snake, longleaf pine is now largely confined to isolated patches on private land and the DeSoto National Forest in Mississippi. Most of the remaining patches of longleaf pine on private land are fragmented, degraded second-growth forests.

“The black pine snake — like the red cockaded woodpecker, gopher tortoise and dozens of other wildlife species in the Southeast — depends on longleaf pine forests,” said Adkins. “After decades of unchecked timbering, fire suppression and development, federal protection for this snake is the best way to ensure its remaining habitats are protected.”

Black pine snakes live in upland, open longleaf pine forests with sandy, well-drained soils and dense grassy or herbaceous groundcover. Adults retreat and hibernate in rotted-out root systems, while juveniles use small mammal burrows. These large, powerful constricting snakes can grow up to 7 feet in length and hiss loudly and vibrate their tails when encountered. They are harmless to humans and feed on rodents like mice, rats and squirrels, as well as rabbits and other small animals.

To date 151 plants and animals have received protection as a result of the Center’s 2011 agreement, and another 65 have been proposed for protection. Read more about the Center’s 757 agreement and the Center’s campaign to address the amphibian and reptile extinction crisis.