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Louisiana pinesnake. Photo by Michael Sealy, USFWS.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protects rare constrictor snake of Louisiana, Texas; proposes additional conservation measures

Proposed rule would limit regulatory burden while prioritizing conservation of species

Based on a rigorous review of the best available science, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is listing the Louisiana pinesnake as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). A threatened designation means a species is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

Found only in the pine forests of north and central Louisiana and east Texas, the Louisiana pinesnake, a large, non-venomous constrictor snake, has declined significantly over the past several decades. Today, this reclusive reptile is limited to just a handful of isolated populations.

Along with the final listing, the Service is also proposing a special rule under section 4(d) of the ESA that will allow protections to be tailored to those that provide the greatest benefit to the snake. The rule will allow some forest management practices considered critical to forest health and important for the snake’s recovery to continue. These include forest thinning, tree harvesting and planting to actively manage healthy open-canopied pine forests, and the use of prescribed fire and some herbicides.

This targeted approach in implementing the ESA also limits the regulatory burden on the forestry community and focuses conservation efforts on collaboration with federal and state agencies, non-profit organizations and businesses in helping reverse the decline of the pinesnake and its habitat.

Within specific areas occupied by the Louisiana pinesnake, the forest management activities listed above would be exempt from the provisions of the ESA, but subsurface soil disturbance activities such as stumping, disking (except for establishing and maintaining firebreaks) root-raking, drum-chopping, below-ground shearing, bedding and wind-rowing would not be exempted under this rule. Landowners may still be able to implement these management activities, but would first need to consult with the Service to determine whether those activities would harm the snake, and if so, how they can avoid, minimize or mitigate for those impacts.

Thanks to existing collaborations with federal agencies, timber producers and other landowners, best management practices – such as prescribed burning and lower density pine planting – are already being implemented to enhance pinesnake habitat. These collaborations include a candidate conservation agreement with assurances (CCAA) with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and a candidate conservation agreement with the U.S. Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Defense’s Fort Polk and the Joint Readiness Training Center. Those entities that enrolled in the CCAA will not be subject to additional regulations now that the snake is being listed. Additionally, lands enrolled under the CCAA will be excluded from future critical habitat designation.

We will continue to work with all stakeholders to find creative ways to protect the pinesnake while reducing the regulatory burden on landowners.

The Louisiana pinesnake spends most of its life underground, stalking through the burrows of its pocket gopher prey. Reaching up to nearly five feet long, Louisiana pinesnakes are black, brown and russet colored. Its body markings are unusual, always different at opposite ends of its body, such that if the head and tail are compared, they appear to be from completely different snakes.

Starting today, the Service is opening a 30-day public comment on the proposed 4(d) rule.

The Service will accept comments received or postmarked on or before May 7, 2018. Comments submitted electronically using the Federal eRulemaking Portal (see ADDRESSES, below) must be received by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on the closing date. We must receive requests for public hearings, in writing, at the address shown in FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT by April 23, 2018.

You may submit comments by one of the following methods:

  1. Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter FWS–R4–ES–2018-0010, which is the docket number for this rulemaking. Then, click on the Search button. On the resulting page, in the Search panel on the left side of the screen, under the Document Type heading, click on the Proposed Rules link to locate this document. You may submit a comment by clicking on “Comment Now!”
  2. By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R4–ES–2018-0010, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041–3803.

We request that you send comments only by the methods described above. We will post all comments on regulations.gov. This generally means that we will post any personal information you provide us.

Additional information

Contact

Contact: Phil Kloer, (404) 679-7299, Philip_kloer@fws.gov
Lesli Gray, (972) 439-4542, lesli_gray@fws.gov

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information on our work and the people who can make it happen, visit fws.gov. Connect with the Service on Facebook, follow our tweets, watch the YouTube Channel and download photos from Flickr.

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