Northern Mexican garter snake

The Northern Mexican garter snake is under federal review to allow a conservation program to continue its work.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Servoss

The number of threatened northern Mexican garter snakes living along the Colorado River is higher than authorities realized.

This week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it is adding the threatened snake to the conservation program designed to protect 26 other species.

When the garter snake was listed as threatened in 2014, its only home in Arizona was thought to be in the central portion of the state, along the Salt and Verde rivers. However, unknown to wildlife authorities at the time, the elusive snake was also lurking in Mohave County.

“We found the first snakes in the Bill Williams River in 2012 and then in the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge at Beal Lake a couple of years later, but we weren’t expecting to find them because they were supposed have been extirpated from the river for the last 100 Years,” said John Swett, program manager for the Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program.

The conservation program was created to balance the use of the Colorado River water resources with the conservation of native species and their habitats.

The discovery at Beal Lake came as an exciting surprise, Swett added.

“We don’t know where it came from but our conservation area there is adjacent to Topock Marsh which is a large marsh complex on the refuge and it’s likely the snakes are in the marsh,” he said. “It is likely there will only be pockets of habitation. Even if we did intensive surveys we may not find them in large numbers, but that doesn’t mean they are not out there.”

The garter snake wasn’t included as one of 26 species the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cited in its initial “incidental take permit” to the organization. This permit allows a certain number of fish and wildlife to be killed during conservation projects.

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