Environment

New plan seeks to safeguard giant garter snake habitat in California

The giant garter snake is endemic to wetlands of the Central Valley but has seen its habitat decline by 95 percent.
The giant garter snake is endemic to wetlands of the Central Valley but has seen its habitat decline by 95 percent. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

A new regional recovery plan for the giant garter snake, a threatened species endemic to the Central Valley, seeks to protect large blocks of its habitat in nine Central Valley areas, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced this week.

The venomous snake, which grows as long as 4 feet, has been hurt by a drastic loss of wetland throughout the Central Valley due to urban development and row-crop farming. It’s estimated that 95 percent of the snake’s historical habitat of seasonal wetland and tule marsh is gone. The snake was listed as threatened under the Federal Endangered Species Act in 1993.

The new recovery plan, open for public comment, seeks to get the snake off the federal list of threatened species, said Jennifer Norris, field supervisor for the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The new plan calls for habitat to be preserved in two separate blocks in each of nine areas from Butte County to the Tulare Basin, one with approximately 540 acres of contiguous wetlands, the other with approximately 1,575 acres of contiguous active farming land. The blocks will give the garter snake a much bigger expanse of habitat in which to thrive.

The voluntary plan also calls for blocks of land to be connected by corridors of aquatic and drier riparian habitat.

“The amount of acreage is lofty, but it’s what we feel is needed to recover the species,” Norris said.

As the garter snake’s habitat has disappeared, the species has adapted by using active rice fields and a combination of canals, levees and ditches as alternative habitat. But the four-year drought has resulted in rice farmers fallowing rice acreage which, in turn, has shrunk the giant garter snake’s habitat.

In some cases, the agency will seek easements where rice acreage will be preserved and not switched to another crop, Norris said.

Edward Ortiz: 916-321-1071, @edwardortiz

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