In a legal victory for the Center for Biological Diversity and Hoosier Environmental Council, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed today to reconsider Endangered Species Act protections for the Midwest’s imperiled Kirtland’s snake by June 30, 2026.

“I’m so glad the pretty Kirtland’s snake is getting another shot at badly needed protections,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The wetlands that Kirtland’s snakes need are mostly gone and continue to disappear. Protecting these little snakes and their homes will benefit them and it’ll help people, too.”

The groups, represented by the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Chicago, challenged the Service’s 2017 decision to deny protecting the snakes as either endangered or threatened.

These small, nonvenomous snakes boast red-to-pink undersides. They spend much of the year underground, frequently in crayfish burrows. They feed on earthworms, slugs and leeches. Kirtland’s snakes live in seven states — Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee — but have disappeared from 79 of the 139 counties where they were once found. They are gone completely from Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Agriculture and urbanization have destroyed much of the wetland habitats that the snakes need to survive, leading to their disappearance. Despite laws intended to protect wetlands, tens of thousands of acres of wetland continue to be destroyed every year, according to the Service’s own documents.

Climate change poses a looming and existential threat to the Kirtland’s snake. Models show that by 2060 less than 25% of the snake’s current habitat is expected to remain suitable for their survival.

“This is a victory for Kirtland’s snakes and all the wetlands-associated plants and animals that also depend on their ecological niche,” said David Van Gilder, of Hoosier Environmental Council. “HEC is grateful to our colleagues at the Center for Biological Diversity and the excellent lawyers and student law clerks of the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic for their tenacity in bringing a favorable resolution to this litigation.”

“The Clinic welcomes the Service’s agreement to reconsider the Kirtland’s snake’s status under the Endangered Species Act, as the snake and the wetlands it inhabits are in desperate need of more protections,” said Lee Place, a student law clerk at the Clinic. “We were pleased to represent the Center and the Council in achieving this important outcome.”

The Kirtland’s snake is protected as endangered at the state level in Indiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania (where the snakes were last observed in 1965), and as threatened in Illinois and Ohio. In addition to habitat destruction and climate change, Kirtland’s snakes are threatened by an introduced disease and by collection for the pet trade.

Original post on the Center for Biological Diversity

Areas of Focus: Abrams Environmental Law Clinic
Abrams Environmental Law Clinic
The Abrams Environmental Law Clinic attempts to solve some of the most pressing environmental problems throughout Chicago, the State of Illinois, and the Great Lakes region.