NCASI comments on status of eastern diamondback rattlesnake

In response to a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently initiated a status review to investigate whether the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake warrants federal listing as Threatened (Federal Register May 10, 2012, pp. 27403-27411). The eastern diamondback (Crotalus adamanteus) is the largest rattlesnake in the world, with adults typically 4 to 5 feet in length. The species’ historical range encompassed the Coastal Plain of the southeastern United States from North Carolina to southern Florida, and west to Mississippi and Louisiana.

In the 90-day finding announcing the status review, the Service emphasized the importance of fire-maintained longleaf pine forests as habitat, cited several assertions in the petition about the adverse effects of planted forests on the species, and requested data and other information regarding this species.

NCASI submitted comments to the Service on the 90-day finding. Highlights of the comments are as follows.

  • Although the eastern diamondback is largely associated with pine forests, recent field studies have concluded that an open canopy structure is a more important determinant of habitat suitability than overstory species composition or whether a forest was planted or not.
  • Pine forest landscapes that are actively managed through practices that provide heterogeneity, open the overstory canopy, and suppress midstory hardwood development (e.g., thinning, prescribed fire, herbicides) are likely to provide high quality habitat, regardless of the dominant pine species.
  • Private landowners, who own most of the pine forests within the range of the eastern diamondback, are most likely to implement practices that promote an open canopy and suppress development of midstory hardwoods within the context of ongoing economically viable commercial forestry operations.
  • The large number of programs and initiatives addressing conservation of longleaf pine and associated species, and promoting practices such as prescribed fire, likely comprises the largest such conservation effort in North America, and is enhancing habitat for the eastern diamondback rattlesnake.
  • Some allegations in the petition are not adequately supported by peer-reviewed literature or structured population surveys.

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