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Fish and Wildlife pushing for threatened status for black pinesnake

SOUTH MISSISSIPPI — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says a snake found only in longleaf pine forests of southern Mississippi and Alabama should be listed as threatened.

It’s asking for public comment about its proposal to list black pinesnakes as threatened.

Black pinesnakes are burrowing constrictors colored dark brown to black. Their small heads have pointed snouts. Adults range from 4 feet to nearly 6 feet long. Research at Camp Shelby shows that they eat small rodents, baby rabbits, birds, bird eggs and baby squirrels, according to The Nature Conservancy.

Their main threat is loss of longleaf pine forests, a fire-dependent ecosystem which once covered about 90 million acres across the Southeast but were down to about 3 million acres in the 1990s because of lumbering, development, fire suppression and other issues.

“The black pinesnake is an important part of the longleaf pine ecosystem in southern Alabama and Mississippi,” said Cindy Dohner, the Service’s Southeast regional director. “Conservation efforts for the black pinesnake align closely with efforts already ongoing in this ecosystem for other wildlife like the gopher tortoise, eastern indigo snake, dusky gopher frog, and the red-cockaded woodpecker.”

Federal biologists say 11 populations are known in 11 Mississippi counties and three in Alabama. It’s considered eliminated from Louisiana, where they were last seen more than 30 years ago, according to a news release from the federal agency.

The counties with current populations are Forrest, George, Greene, Harrison, Jackson, Jones, Lamar, Marion, Perry, Stone, and Wayne in Mississippi and Clarke, Mobile, and Washington in Alabama, biologists said.

The agency said that if the snake is listed as threatened, areas where it lives would be exempt from some of the usual restrictions under the Endangered Species Act. For instance, herbicide treatments, prescribed burning, restoration along river banks and stream buffers, and some intermediate timber treatments would be allowed.

The black pinesnake has been a candidate for federal protection since 1999.

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