AP

US: Protect Louisiana, Texas land for rare burrowing snake

Nov 7, 2022, 11:27 AM | Updated: 2:10 pm

This photo provided the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows “Mr. Snake,” a threatened Louisian...

This photo provided the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows “Mr. Snake,” a threatened Louisiana pinesnake kept for education and outreach, on July 11, 2022, at the USFS office in the Evangeline Unit of the Calcasieu District of Kisatchie National Forest, near Alexandria, La. The U.S. government has proposed protecting four areas in Louisiana and two in Texas as critical habitat for the constrictor, which eats pocket gophers and takes over their burrows in longleaf pine savannas. (Ian Fischer/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP)

(Ian Fischer/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Four areas in Louisiana and two in Texas should be protected as critical habitat for a rare snake that eats pocket gophers and takes over the rodents’ burrows, the federal government says.

Louisiana pinesnakes, which produce the largest eggs and hatchlings of any U.S. snake, have been protected as threatened since 2018.

Their decline is largely due to the drastic reduction and fragmentation of grassy longleaf pine savannas with sandy soil. And since Louisiana pinesnakes’ 5-inch-long (12.7-centimeter) eggs are so big that they lay only three to five at a time, losses are hard to replace.

The snakes grow to 5 feet long (1.5 meters) but are hard to count because they spend more than half their time underground. They also are camouflaged on brown pine needles, with black, brown and russet patches on a buff to yellowish background.

National forests cover most of four areas that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed as critical habitat. Private land — including some covered by conservation agreements — comprises all of the smallest, in Texas, and virtually all of the biggest, in north Louisiana where the largest known population lives.

Critical habitat is a limited protection, affecting only contracts using federal money or requiring federal permits. Other critical habitat decisions have sparked challenges by landowners and dissension over what lands qualify for such designation.

In north Louisiana’s Bienville Parish, private owners hold more than 99% of a proposed area about the size of Milwaukee — roughly 95 square miles (246 square kilometers). The smallest area, about 8 square miles (20 square kilometers) in Scrappin’ Valley, Texas, is all privately held.

However, the Scrappin’ Valley land is already managed for endangered little red-cockaded woodpeckers, which also need open-canopied pine savannas, said Don Dietz, consulting biologist for a family that owns 70% of the land.

“Red-cockaded woodpeckers eat a lot of ants, which need the open area below. So the habitat is essentially the same,” Dietz said.

Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the environmental nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, said, “Far too few private landowners care about nature and ensuring species like the Louisiana pinesnake survive. When it does happen it’s really great.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service said two of seven known pinesnake populations are in Texas, but Dietz was dubious. He said he tried unsuccessfully for a decade to trap Louisiana pinesnakes to prove they lived in Scrappin’ Valley.

“I want to believe there’s some out there, but in Texas there may not be,” Dietz said.

Other populations live in Louisiana’s Bienville, Grant, Natchitoches, Sabine, and Vernon parishes, the federal agency said.

Big Cypress State Park makes up about 0.5% of the proposed Bienville unit. Another 8.4 square miles (22 square kilometers) are part of a conservation agreement benefiting the snake, according to Fish and Wildlife’s economic analysis.

The Weyerhaeuser Co. announced in 2020 that it had a 30-year agreement to manage land in Bienville Parish for the Louisiana pinesnake.

Weyerhaeuser said it is working to understand how the federal proposal “would overlap and potentially impact the acres of critical habitat we are currently protecting for the Louisiana pinesnake.”

The company said in 2020 that state and federal biologists helped it identify two areas totaling about 2.8 square miles (7.25 square kilometers) as the most important for the snake. It said it would convert about 440 acres (180 hectares) from loblolly to longleaf pine and keep another 1,383 acres (560 hectares) with an open canopy and grassy forest floor.

Wildlife and Fisheries wouldn’t say whether Weyerhaeuser’s longleaf conversion and open canopy areas are within the proposed federal critical habitat.

Wherever they are, it “isn’t really enough to help the Louisiana pinesnake on Weyerhaeuser land,” Greenwald said. Louisiana pinesnake populations need blocks of more than 11 square miles (28.5 square kilometers) of mostly unfragmented habitat, according to the federal analysis.

Also proposed as critical habitat in Louisiana are about 89 square miles (230 square kilometers) in Rapides Parish, more than 68 square miles (176 square kilometers) in Vernon Parish and about 41 square miles (106 square kilometers) in Grant Parish. Different parts of the Kisatchie National Forest make up most of each.

The second Texas area would cover nearly 25 square miles (65 square kilometers) in Angelina and Jasper counties, mostly in the Angelina National Forest.

___

To see all of AP’s environmental coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Several hundred students and pro-Palestinian supporters rally at the intersection of Grove and Coll...

Associated Press

Pro-Palestinian protests sweep US college campuses following mass arrests at Columbia

Columbia canceled in-person classes, dozens of protesters were arrested at New York University and Yale, and the gates to Harvard Yard were closed to the public Monday.

16 hours ago

Ban on sleeping outdoors under consideration in Supreme Court...

Associated Press

With homelessness on the rise, the Supreme Court weighs bans on sleeping outdoors

The Supreme Court is wrestling with major questions about the growing issue of homelessness as it considers a ban on sleeping outdoors.

17 hours ago

Arizona judge declares mistrial in case of rancher who shot migrant...

Associated Press

Arizona judge declares mistrial in the case of a rancher accused of fatally shooting a migrant

An Arizona judge declared a mistrial in the case of rancher accused of killing a Mexican man on his property near the U.S.-Mexico border.

18 hours ago

Donald Trump appears in court for opening statements in his criminal trial for allegedly covering u...

Associated Press

Trump tried to ‘corrupt’ the 2016 election, prosecutor alleges as hush money trial gets underway

Donald Trump's criminal trial in New York over alleged hush money payments started with opening statements on Monday.

1 day ago

This satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows Iran's nuclear site in Isfahan, Iran, April 4, 2024...

Associated Press

Israel, Iran play down apparent Israeli strike. The muted responses could calm tensions — for now

Israel and Iran are both playing down an apparent Israeli airstrike near a major air base and nuclear site in central Iran.

4 days ago

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., talks to reporters just after lawmakers pushed a $95 bill...

Associated Press

Ukraine, Israel aid advances in rare House vote as Democrats help Republicans push it forward

The House pushed ahead Friday on a foreign aid package of $95 billion for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and other sources of humanitarian support.

4 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Day & Night is looking for the oldest AC in the Valley

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.

...

Fiesta Bowl Foundation

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade is excitingly upon us

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe is upon us! The attraction honors Arizona and the history of the game.

(KTAR News Graphic)...

Boys & Girls Clubs

KTAR launches online holiday auction benefitting Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley

KTAR is teaming up with The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley for a holiday auction benefitting thousands of Valley kids.

US: Protect Louisiana, Texas land for rare burrowing snake