[Federal Register Volume 81, Number 194 (Thursday, October 6, 2016)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 69454-69475]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2016-24113]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

[Docket No. FWS-R4-ES-2016-0121; 4500030113]
RIN 1018-BB46

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Threatened Species 
Status for Louisiana Pinesnake

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Proposed rule.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), propose to 
list the Louisiana pinesnake (Pituophis ruthveni), a reptile species 
from Louisiana and Texas, as a threatened species under the Endangered 
Species Act (Act). If we finalize this rule as proposed, it would 
extend the Act's protections to this species.

DATES: We will accept comments received or postmarked on or before 
December 5, 2016. Comments submitted electronically using the Federal 
eRulemaking Portal (see ADDRESSES, below) must be received by 11:59 
p.m. Eastern Time on the closing date. We must receive requests for 
public hearings, in writing, at the address shown in FOR FURTHER 
INFORMATION CONTACT by November 21, 2016.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments by one of the following methods:
    (1) Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter FWS-R4-ES-2016-0121, 
which is the docket number for this rulemaking. Then, click on the 
Search button. On the resulting page, in the Search panel on the left 
side of the screen, under the Document Type heading, click on the 
Proposed Rules link to locate this document. You may submit a comment 
by clicking on ``Comment Now!''
    (2) By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: Public 
Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R4-ES-2016-0121, U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.
    We request that you send comments only by the methods described 
above. We will post all comments on http://www.regulations.gov. This 
generally means that we will post any personal information you provide 
us (see Information Requested, below, for more information).

Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Louisiana

[[Page 69455]]

Ecological Services Office, 646 Cajundome Blvd., Suite 400, Lafayette, 
LA; telephone 337-291-3101; facsimile 337-291-3139. Persons who use a 
telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal 
Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 800-877-8339.


Executive Summary

    Why we need to publish a rule. Under the Act, if we determine that 
a species is an endangered or threatened species throughout all or a 
significant portion of its range, we are required to promptly publish a 
proposed rule in the Federal Register and make a determination on our 
proposal within 1 year. Critical habitat shall be designated, to the 
maximum extent prudent and determinable, for any species determined to 
be an endangered or threatened species under the Act. Listing a species 
as an endangered or threatened species and designations of critical 
habitat can only be completed by issuing a rule. We have determined 
that designating critical habitat for the Louisiana pinesnake is 
prudent, but not determinable at this time, because the specific 
information sufficient to perform the required analysis of the impacts 
of the designation is currently lacking, such as information on areas 
to be proposed for designation and the potential economic impacts 
associated with designation of these areas.
    This rule proposes to list the Louisiana pinesnake as a threatened 
species. The Louisiana pinesnake is a candidate species for which we 
have on file sufficient information on biological vulnerability and 
threats to support preparation of a listing proposal, but for which 
development of a listing rule had been, until now, precluded by other 
higher priority listing activities.
    The basis for our action. Under the Act, we may determine that a 
species is an endangered or threatened species based on any of five 
factors: (A) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of its habitat or range; (B) overutilization for 
commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; (C) 
disease or predation; (D) the inadequacy of existing regulatory 
mechanisms; or (E) other natural or manmade factors affecting its 
continued existence. We have determined that the Louisiana pinesnake is 
threatened primarily because of the past and continuing loss, 
degradation, and fragmentation of habitat in association with 
incompatible silviculture, fire suppression, road and right-of-way 
construction, and urbanization (Factor A), and the magnified 
vulnerability of all the small, isolated, genetically compromised 
extant populations to mortality from vehicle strikes and from predators 
(Factors C and E).
    We will seek peer review. We will seek comments from independent 
specialists to ensure that our designation is based on scientifically 
sound data, assumptions, and analyses. We will invite these peer 
reviewers to comment on this listing proposal.

Information Requested

Public Comments

    We intend that any final action resulting from this proposed rule 
will be based on the best scientific and commercial data available and 
be as accurate and as effective as possible. Therefore, we request 
comments or information from other concerned governmental agencies, 
Native American tribes, the scientific community, industry, or any 
other interested parties concerning this proposed rule. We particularly 
seek comments concerning:
    (1) The Louisiana pinesnake's biology, range, and population 
trends, including:
    (a) Biological or ecological requirements of the species, including 
habitat requirements for feeding, breeding, and sheltering;
    (b) Genetics and taxonomy;
    (c) Historical and current range, including distribution patterns;
    (d) Historical and current population levels, and current and 
projected trends; and
    (e) Past and ongoing conservation measures for the species, its 
habitat, or both.
    (2) Factors that may affect the continued existence of the species, 
which may include habitat modification or destruction, overutilization, 
disease, predation, the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms, 
or other natural or manmade factors.
    (3) Biological, commercial trade, or other relevant data concerning 
any threats (or lack thereof) to this species and existing regulations 
that may be addressing those threats.
    (4) Additional information concerning the historical and current 
status, range, distribution, and population size of this species, 
including the locations of any additional populations of this species.
    (5) Information on activities that might warrant being exempted 
under section 4(d) of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.). The Service is 
considering proposing such measures before the final listing 
determination is published, and will evaluate ideas provided by the 
public in considering whether such exemptions are necessary and 
advisable for the conservation of the Louisiana pinesnake.
    Please include sufficient information with your submission (such as 
scientific journal articles or other publications) to allow us to 
verify any scientific or commercial information you include.
    Please note that submissions merely stating support for or 
opposition to the action under consideration without providing 
supporting information, although noted, will not be considered in 
making a determination, as section 4(b)(1)(A) of the Act directs that 
determinations as to whether any species is an endangered or threatened 
species must be made ``solely on the basis of the best scientific and 
commercial data available.''
    You may submit your comments and materials concerning this proposed 
rule by one of the methods listed in ADDRESSES. We request that you 
send comments only by the methods described in ADDRESSES.
    If you submit information via http://www.regulations.gov, your 
entire submission--including any personal identifying information--will 
be posted on the Web site. If your submission is made via a hardcopy 
that includes personal identifying information, you may request at the 
top of your document that we withhold this information from public 
review. However, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so. We 
will post all hardcopy submissions on http://www.regulations.gov.
    Comments and materials we receive, as well as supporting 
documentation we used in preparing this proposed rule, will be 
available for public inspection on http://www.regulations.gov, or by 
appointment, during normal business hours, at the U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, Louisiana Ecological Services Office (see FOR FURTHER 
    Because we will consider all comments and information we receive 
during the comment period, our final determination may differ from this 

Public Hearing

    Section 4(b)(5) of the Act provides for one or more public hearings 
on this proposal, if requested. Requests must be received by the date 
specified in DATES. Such requests must be sent to the address shown in 
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT. We will schedule public hearings on 
this proposal, if any are requested, and announce the dates, times, and 
places of those hearings, as well as how to obtain reasonable 
accommodations, in the Federal Register and local newspapers at least 
15 days before the hearing.

[[Page 69456]]

Peer Review

    In accordance with our joint policy on peer review published in the 
Federal Register on July 1, 1994 (59 FR 34270), we are seeking the 
expert opinions of six appropriate and independent specialists 
regarding this proposed rule. The purpose of peer review is to ensure 
that our listing determination is based on scientifically sound data, 
assumptions, and analyses. The peer reviewers have expertise in 
Louisiana pinesnake biology, habitat, physical or biological factors, 
etc., and they are currently reviewing the status information in the 
proposed rule, which will inform our determination. We invite comment 
from the peer reviewers during this public comment period.

Previous Federal Actions

    We identified the Louisiana pinesnake (as Pituophis melanoleucus 
ruthveni) as a Category 2 candidate species in the December 30, 1982, 
Review of Vertebrate Wildlife for Listing as Endangered or Threatened 
Species (47 FR 58454). Category 2 candidates were defined as taxa for 
which we had information that proposed listing was possibly 
appropriate, but for which substantial data on biological vulnerability 
and threats were not available to support a proposed rule at the time. 
The species remained so designated in subsequent annual candidate 
notices of review (CNORs) (50 FR 37958, September 18, 1985; 54 FR 554, 
January 6, 1989; 56 FR 58804, November 21, 1991; 59 FR 58982, November 
15, 1994). In the February 28, 1996, CNOR (61 FR 7596), we discontinued 
the designation of Category 2 species as candidates; therefore, the 
Louisiana pinesnake was no longer a candidate species.
    We added the Louisiana pinesnake (as Pituophis melanoleucus) to the 
candidate list in 1999 (64 FR 57534, October 25, 1999). Currently, 
candidate species are defined as plants and animals for which the 
Service has sufficient information on their biological status and 
threats to propose them as endangered or threatened under the Act, but 
for which development of a listing rule is precluded by other higher 
priority listing actions. The Louisiana pinesnake was assigned a 
listing priority number (LPN) of 5, based on the immediacy and 
magnitude of threats to this species.
    In the October 30, 2001, CNOR (66 FR 54808), we recognized the 
Louisiana pinesnake as Pituophis ruthveni and retained an LPN of 5 for 
the species. The Louisiana pinesnake was included with an LPN of 5 in 
our subsequent annual CNORs through 2005 (67 FR 40657, June 13, 2002; 
69 FR 24876, May 4, 2004; 70 FR 24870, May 11, 2005). In 2006, we 
changed the Louisiana pinesnake's LPN to 8, based on threats of 
moderate to low magnitude that were imminent (71 FR 53756; September 
12, 2006). In 2007, we again changed the Louisiana pinesnake's LPN, 
reassigning it an LPN of 5, based on non-imminent, high-magnitude 
threats (72 FR 69034; December 6, 2007). The Louisiana pinesnake was 
included with an LPN of 5 in our subsequent annual CNORs through 2015 
(73 FR 75176, December 10, 2008; 74 FR 57804, November 9, 2009; 75 FR 
69222, November 10, 2010; 76 FR 66370, October 26, 2011; 77 FR 69994, 
November 21, 2012; 78 FR 70104, November 22, 2013; 79 FR 72450, 
December 5, 2014; 80 FR 80584, December 24, 2015).
    In August 2000, the Service received a petition to list the 
Louisiana pinesnake as endangered under the Act. No new information was 
provided in the petition, and we had already found the species 
warranted listing, so no further action was taken on the petition.
    On May 10, 2011, the Service announced a work plan to restore 
biological priorities and certainty to the Service's listing process. 
As part of an agreement with one of the agency's most frequent 
plaintiffs, the Service filed the work plan with the U.S. District 
Court for the District of Columbia. The work plan enabled the Service 
to, over a period of 6 years, systematically review and address the 
needs of more than 250 species listed within the 2010 CNOR, including 
the Louisiana pinesnake, to determine if these species should be added 
to the Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. 
This work plan enabled the Service to again prioritize its workload 
based on the needs of candidate species, while also providing State 
wildlife agencies, stakeholders, and other partners with clarity and 
certainty about when listing determinations will be made. On July 12, 
2011, the Service reached an agreement with another frequent plaintiff 
group and further strengthened the work plan, which allowed the agency 
to focus its resources on the species most in need of protection under 
the Act. These agreements were approved on September 9, 2011. 
Therefore, the timing of this proposed listing is, in part, an outcome 
of the work plan.


Species Description and Taxonomy

    Pinesnakes (genus Pituophis) are large, short-tailed, non-venomous, 
powerful constricting snakes with keeled scales, a single anal plate 
(the scale covering the cloaca), and disproportionately small heads 
(Conant and Collins 1991, pp. 201-202). Their snouts are pointed, and 
they have a large rostral (tip of the snout) scale, both presumably 
contributing to the snakes good burrowing ability. The Louisiana 
pinesnake (P. ruthveni) has a buff to yellowish background color with 
dark brown to russet dorsal blotches covering its total length 
(Vandeventer and Young 1989, p. 35; Conant and Collins 1991, p. 203). 
The belly of the Louisiana pinesnake is unmarked or boldly patterned 
with black markings. It is variable in both coloration and pattern, but 
a characteristic feature is that the body markings on its back are 
always conspicuously different at opposite ends of its body. Blotches 
run together near the head, often obscuring the background color, and 
then become more separate and well-defined towards the tail. Typically, 
there are no noticeable head markings, although rarely a light bar or 
stripe may occur behind the eye. The length of adult Louisiana 
pinesnakes ranges from 48 to 56 inches (in) (122 to 142 centimeters 
(cm)) (Conant and Collins 1991, p. 203). The largest reported specimen 
was 5.8 feet (ft) (178 cm) long (Davis 1971, p. 1; Conant and Collins 
1991, p. 203).
    The Louisiana pinesnake is a member of the Class Reptilia, Order 
Squamata, Suborder Serpentes, and Family Colubridae. Stull (1929, pp. 
2-3) formally described the Louisiana pinesnake as a pinesnake 
subspecies (P. melanoleucus ruthveni) based on two specimens taken in 
Rapides Parish, Louisiana. Reichling (1995, p. 192) reassessed this 
snake's taxonomic status and concluded that the Louisiana pinesnake was 
geographically isolated and phenotypically distinct, and thus a valid 
evolutionary species. The Louisiana pinesnake has subsequently been 
accepted as a full species, P. ruthveni (Crother 2000, p. 69; 
Rodriguez-Robles and Jesus-Escobar 2000, p. 46; Collins and Taggert 
2002, p. 33). We have carefully reviewed this taxonomic research for 
the Louisiana pinesnake and conclude that the species is a valid taxon.


    Louisiana pinesnakes are known from and associated with a disjunct 
portion of the historic longleaf-dominated (hereafter, ``longleaf'') 
pine (Pinus palustris) ecosystem that existed in west-central Louisiana 
and east Texas (Reichling 1995, p. 186). Longleaf pine forests (which 
are dominated by longleaf, but may also contain other

[[Page 69457]]

overstory species such as loblolly and shortleaf pine and sparse 
hardwoods) have the most species-rich herpetofaunal community compared 
to other similarly sized and located pine forest habitat in North 
America, and harbor more species that are specialists of that habitat 
(Guyer and Bailey 1993, p. 142). Early accounts of Louisiana pinesnake 
collections indicate a strong affinity for longleaf pine habitat, as 
most reports indicated the snakes were collected within or adjacent to 
longleaf pine stands (Fugler 1955, p. 24; Conant 1956, pp. 5, 19, 24; 
Walker 1965, p. 160; Thomas et al 1976, p. 253; Jennings and Fritts 
1983, p. 3; Wright and Wright 1994, pp. 622, 623; Jordan 1998, p. 11). 
The vast majority of natural longleaf pine habitat has been lost or 
degraded due to conversion to extensive pine plantations and 
suppression of the historic fire regime. As a result, current Louisiana 
pinesnake habitat generally consists of sandy, well-drained soils in 
open canopy pine forest, which may include species such as longleaf, 
shortleaf, slash, or loblolly pines with a sparse midstory, and well-
developed herbaceous ground cover dominated by grasses and forbs (Young 
and Vandeventer 1988, p. 204; Rudolph and Burgdorf 1997, p. 117).
    Abundant ground-layer herbaceous vegetation is important for the 
Louisiana pinesnake's primary prey, the Bairds pocket gopher (Geomys 
breviceps), which constitutes 75 percent of the Louisiana pinesnake's 
estimated total prey biomass (Rudolph et al 2012, p. 243). Baird's 
pocket gopher depends mostly on various plant parts of a variety of 
herbaceous species (Pennoyer 1932, pp. 128-129; Sulentich et al. 1991, 
p. 3). Pocket gopher abundance is associated with a low density of 
trees, an open canopy, and a small amount of woody vegetation cover, 
which allow greater sunlight and more herbaceous forage for pocket 
gophers (Himes 1998, p. 43; Melder and Cooper 2015, p. 75).
    Bairds pocket gophers also create the burrow systems in which 
Louisiana pinesnakes are most frequently found (Rudolph and Conner 
1996, p. 2; Rudolph and Burgdorf 1997, p. 117; Himes 1998, p. 42; 
Rudolph et al. 1998, p. 146; Rudolph et al. 2002, p. 62; Himes et al. 
2006, p. 107), and the snakes use these burrow systems as nocturnal 
refugia and hibernacula, and to escape from fire (Rudolph and Burgdorf 
1997, p. 117; Rudolph et al. 1998, p. 147; Ealy et al. 2004, p. 386; 
Rudolph et al. 2007 p. 561; Pierce et al. 2014, p. 140). From 74 
percent to greater than 80 percent of radio-tagged Louisiana pinesnake 
relocations have been underground in pocket gopher burrow systems (Ealy 
et al. 2004, p. 389; Himes et al. 2006, p. 107). In Louisiana, habitat 
selection by Louisiana pinesnakes seems to be determined by the 
abundance and distribution of pocket gophers and their burrow systems 
(Rudolph and Burgdorf 1997, p. 117). Active Louisiana pinesnakes 
occasionally use debris, logs, and low vegetation as temporary surface 
shelters (Rudolph and Burgdorf 1997, p. 117; Himes 1998, p. 26; Ealy et 
al. 2004, p. 386); however, most Louisiana pinesnakes disturbed on the 
surface retreat to nearby burrows (Rudolph and Burgdorf 1997, p. 117). 
Louisiana pinesnakes also minimally use decayed or burned stumps, or 
nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) burrows as underground 
refugia (Ealy et al. 2004, p. 389).
    Baird's pocket gophers appear to prefer well-drained, sandy soils 
with low clay content in the topsoil (Davis et al. 1938, p. 414). 
Whether by choice for burrowing efficiency or in pursuit of Baird's 
pocket gophers (or likely both), Louisiana pinesnakes also occur most 
often in sandy soils (Wagner et al. 2014, p. 152). In Wagner et al.'s 
study, modelling of Louisiana pinesnake habitat revealed that in 
addition to suitable forest structure and herbaceous vegetation, 
specific soil characteristics are an important determinant of Louisiana 
pinesnake inhabitance. Wagner et al. (2014, entire) developed a 
Landscape-scaled Resource Selection Functions Model of Potential 
Louisiana Pinesnake Habitat (LRSF-Model) using available Louisiana 
pinesnake location data with county and parish soil survey data as 
independent variables to more accurately identify the percentage of 
certain soil characteristics that were selected from what was available 
in the landscape, indicating preference. The snakes were found to 
prefer soils with high sand content and a low water table (Wagner et 
al. 2014, p. 152). In a separate modelling study, using essentially the 
same dataset but a different study method, Duran (2010, p. 11) also 
found that Louisiana pinesnakes prefer sandy, well-drained soils, 
confirming the validity of the LRSF-Model, originally proposed in 2009 
(Wagner et al. 2009, entire).
    The fire-climax park-like conditions of typical Louisiana pinesnake 
habitat are created and maintained by recurrent, low-intensity ground 
fires that occur approximately every 3 to 5 years. In the absence of 
recurrent fire, growth of woody midstory species is increased, and 
conditions supporting the Louisiana pinesnake's prey species are lost 
due to shading of herbaceous vegetation. Using radio-telemetry in 
Bienville Parish, Louisiana, Himes et al. (2006, p. 107) recorded wild-
caught (i.e., not captive-bred) Louisiana pinesnakes (nine adults and 
one juvenile) most frequently in pine forests (56 percent), followed by 
pine plantation (23 percent) and clear-cuts (9 percent). It should be 
noted, however, that across all sites, snakes appeared to select areas 
with few large trees (7 to 9 trees per plot) that were approximately 
0.1 ac (0.04 ha) in size, resulting in less canopy closure and more 
light penetration, which supports increased understory vegetation 
growth and therefore more pocket gophers (Himes et al. 2006, pp. 108-
110; 113) regardless of the type of wooded land. In a 2-year (2004-
2005) trapping study of three locations (two were mixed long leaf/
loblolly pine stands being managed specifically for Louisiana pinesnake 
habitat, and one was a loblolly pine plantation managed for fiber tree 
production), Reichling et al. (2008, p. 4) found the same number of 
Louisiana pinesnakes in the pine plantation (n=2) as one of the mixed 
pine stands managed for Louisiana pinesnake (n=2); however, of all the 
three trapping locations studied, the greatest number of snakes was 
found in the second mixed pine stand managed for Louisiana pinesnake 
(n=8). In addition, the snakes found in pine plantation conditions by 
Reichling et al. appeared thin or emaciated (indicating they probably 
had not fed recently), and were not recaptured in that habitat, which 
may have indicated they were moving through these sites (Reichling et 
al. 2008, pp. 9, 14). Further trapping at the same sites since the 
study has produced 17 and 9 more Louisiana pinesnakes for the first and 
second beneficially managed stands, respectively, and only 3 more for 
the plantation site (Pierce 2015, unpub. data).

Life History

    Louisiana pinesnakes appear to be most active March through May and 
September through November (especially November), and least active 
December through February and during the summer (especially August) 
(Himes 1998, p. 12). During the winter, Louisiana pinesnakes use 
Baird's pocket gopher burrows as hibernacula (Rudolph et al. 2007 p. 
561; Pierce et al. 2014, p. 140). In a study conducted by Pierce et al. 
(2014, pp. 140, 142), the species did not use burrows communally, and 
they did not exhibit fidelity to hibernacula sites in successive years. 
Louisiana pinesnakes observed in east Texas appear to be semi-fossorial 
and essentially diurnal, and were also relatively immobile (i.e., moved 
less than 33 ft (10 meters (m)) on

[[Page 69458]]

54.5 percent of days monitored (Ealy et al. 2004, p. 391). In one 
study, they spent, on average, 59 percent of daylight hours (sunrise to 
sunset) below ground, and moved an average of 541 ft (163 m) per day 
(Ealy et al. 2004, p. 390). Adult males in a Louisiana study by Himes 
et al. moved an average of 495 ft (150 m) daily (longest = 3,802 ft 
(1,159 m)), adult females 348 ft (106 m), and juveniles 112 ft (34 m) 
(Himes 1998, p. 18). Himes et al. (2006, p. 107) documented an average 
home range size of 82 ac (33.2 ha) (range 16 to 267 ac (6.5 to 108 ha)) 
for the Louisiana pinesnake. Himes et al. also found that adult males 
had larger average home ranges (145 acres (ac) (58.7 hectares (ha))) 
than females (25 ac (14 ha)) and juveniles (13 ac (5.5 ha)) (Himes 
1998, p. 18).
    Baird's pocket gopher is the primary prey of the Louisiana 
pinesnake (Rudolph et al. 2002, p. 58), comprising an estimated 53 
percent of available individual prey records (75 percent of total prey 
biomass) (Rudolph et al. 2012, p. 243). The Louisiana pinesnake 
exhibits specialized prey handling behavior for the burrow-dwelling 
pocket gopher not common among constricting snake species (Rudolph et 
al. 2002, pp. 59-61). The Louisiana pinesnake is also known to eat 
eastern moles (Scalopus aquaticus), cotton rats (Sigmodon hispidus), 
deer mice (Peromyscus sp.), harvest mice (Reithrodontomys sp.), and 
turtle (probably Trachemys scripta) eggs (Rudolph et al. 2002, p. 59; 
Rudolph et al. 2012, p. 244).
    Louisiana pinesnake sexual maturity is attained at an approximate 
length of 4 ft (120 cm) and an age of approximately 3 years (Himes et 
al. 2002, p. 686). The Louisiana pinesnake is an egg-layer (oviparous), 
with a gestation period of about 21 days (Reichling 1988, p. 77), 
followed by 60 days of incubation. Having the smallest clutch size 
(three to five) of any North American colubrid snake, the Louisiana 
pinesnake exhibits a remarkably low reproductive rate (Reichling 1990, 
p. 221). However, the Louisiana pinesnake produces the largest eggs 
(generally 12 cm (5 in) long and 5 cm (2 in) wide) of any U.S. snake 
(Reichling 1990, p. 221). It also produces the largest hatchlings 
reported for any North American snake, ranging 18 to 22 in (45 to 55 
cm) in length, and up to 3.77 ounces (oz) (107 grams (g)) in weight 
(Reichling 1990, p. 221). No Louisiana pinesnake nests have been 
located in the wild. Captive Louisiana pinesnakes can live over 30 
years, but females have not reproduced beyond the age of 18 years 
(Reichling and Schad 2010, p. 5).

Historical and Current Distribution

    The Louisiana pinesnake historically occurred in portions of 
northwest and west-central Louisiana and extreme east-central Texas 
(Conant 1956, p. 19). This area coincides with an isolated, and the 
most westerly, occurrence of the longleaf pine ecosystem and is 
situated west of the Mississippi River. Most of the sandy, longleaf 
pine-dominated savannahs historically inhabited by the Louisiana 
pinesnake had been lost by the mid-1930s (Bridges and Orzell 1989, p. 
246; Frost 1993, p. 30). After virgin longleaf pine was cut, it rarely 
regenerated naturally. In some parts of the Southeast, free-ranging 
hogs depredated the longleaf pine seedlings, and fire suppression 
allowed shrubs, hardwoods, and loblolly pine to dominate (Frost 1993, 
pp. 34-36). The naturally maintained open structure and abundant 
herbaceous vegetation characteristic of the historical longleaf pine 
forests was diminished or lost, and, therefore, it is likely that 
undocumented populations of this species historically occurred but were 
lost before 1930.
    The U.S. Forest Service (USFS), Southern Research Station (SRS), 
Wildlife Habitat and Silviculture Laboratory in Nacogdoches, Texas, has 
compiled and maintains a historical records database of all known 
Louisiana pinesnake locations (excluding telemetry data). According to 
that database, 267 occurrence records of 235 individual Louisiana 
pinesnakes have been verified from 1927 through December 21, 2015 
(excluding reintroductions), all from Louisiana and Texas (Pierce 2015, 
unpub. data). By comparison, for the Florida pinesnake (Pituophis 
melanoleucus mugitus), a species with a four State range (Ernst and 
Ernst 2003, p. 281), there are 874 records of occurrence through 2015 
in the State of Florida alone (Enge 2016, pers. comm.). Similarly, 
there are approximately 395 total records of black pinesnakes 
(Pituophis melanoleucus lodingi) since 1932 (Hinderliter 2016, 
    Based on the Louisiana pinesnake database, there are records from 
seven parishes in Louisiana (Beauregard, Bienville, Jackson, 
Natchitoches, Rapides, Sabine, and Vernon) and 11 counties in Texas 
(Angelina, Hardin, Jasper, Nacogdoches, Newton, Polk, Sabine, San 
Augustine, Trinity, Tyler, and Wood) (Figure 1). Previous Louisiana 
pinesnake reports that are not included in this database are: single 
records for Calcasieu and Jefferson Davis Parishes in Louisiana 
(Williams and Cordes 1996, p. 35), considered suspect (Pierce 2015, 
unpub. data; Thomas et al. 1976, pp. 253-254; Walls 2008, pers. comm.); 
a single record from Cherokee County, Texas, which was erroneous 
(Pierce 2009, pers. comm.); single records from Montgomery and Walker 
Counties in Texas reclassified as Pituophis catenifer (Pierce 2008, 
pers. comm.); two records from Rapides Parish, Louisiana, and one from 
Caldwell County, Texas, from the 1960s considered not verifiable 
(Reichling 2012, pers. comm.; Thomas et al. 1976, pp. 253-254).

[[Page 69459]]


    Despite being primarily diurnal, the Louisiana pinesnake's apparent 
rarity, secretive nature, and preference for occupying pocket gopher 
burrow systems has made it difficult to generate extensive natural 
history information (Ealy et al. 2004, pp. 383-384). Trapping results 
are functions of trap location selection, trap success, and true 
presence or absence; thus trapping data only approximate Louisiana 
pinesnake use of an area, but are the best available estimate. 
Currently trapping is the only standardized and most effective known 
method for surveying Louisiana pinesnakes. While it is the most 
effective, it is also expensive and labor intensive. Trapping for 
Louisiana pinesnakes involves the use of multiple sets of drift fences 
with box traps in an area either known to be inhabited by Louisiana 
pinesnakes or that appears to have suitable habitat. Box and funnel 
traps, with and without drift fences, are effective in catching snakes 
similar in size, and related to the Louisiana pinesnake, including the 
bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi), black pinesnake, Florida 
pinesnake, and northern pinesnake (Pituophis melanoleucus melanoleucus) 
(Burgdorf et al. 2005, p. 424; Fitch 1951, p. 80; Yager et al. 2005, p. 
24; Zappalorti 2016, p. 7; Enge 2016, pers. comm.).

[[Page 69460]]

    Since 1993, extensive Louisiana pinesnake trapping has been 
conducted at first near recent recorded occurrences of the species that 
appeared to be in suitable habitat, and then more broadly, in other 
locations of varying habitat conditions within the snake's historical 
range (Rudolph et al. 2006, p. 464) by the USFS, the U.S. Army, the 
Memphis Zoo, and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries 
(LDWF). Trapping has been conducted to provide animals for telemetry 
studies, to determine the effects of vehicle-caused mortality, and for 
surveys to document presence of the species (Rudolph et al. 2015, p. 
3). A variable number of traps are operated per year in 10 Texas 
counties and seven Louisiana parishes (Rudolph et al. 2015, p. 3). 
Through the years, there have been slight modifications to some traps, 
but it is not considered to have had major impacts on trap success 
(Rudolph et al. 2015, p. 3). Additionally, over time, new traps may be 
added to locations thought to contain Louisiana pinesnakes because of 
the presence of suitable conditions, such as preferred soils (Melder 
2015, p. 115; Wagner et al. 2014, p. 152).
    In total, trapping during 1993-2015 from throughout the historical 
range of the Louisiana pinesnake has resulted in 101 unique individual 
captures. Supported by rangewide trapping results and the historical 
records database, Rudolph et al. (2006, p. 467-469) concluded that the 
failure to document existing Louisiana pinesnake populations at known 
historical localities, coupled with the degradation and fragmentation 
of habitat in those areas, indicates that the Louisiana pinesnake had 
been extirpated from significant portions of its historical range. 
Three parishes (Beauregard, Jackson, and Rapides) in Louisiana, and 
seven counties (Hardin, Nacogdoches, Polk, Sabine, San Augustine, 
Trinity, and Wood) in Texas, are now considered unoccupied by the 
Louisiana pinesnake. Rudolph et al. (2006, pp. 467-469) determined that 
six occupied areas were in existence in 2006. In 2007, an area on the 
Kisatchie District of the Kisatchie National Forest (KNF) in Louisiana 
was determined to be occupied by the Louisiana pinesnake. Based on 2014 
analysis (and reaffirmed by 2016 analysis) of occurrence records of 
counties or parishes with multiple observations since 1993, six 
natural, potentially extant, populations of Louisiana pinesnakes occur 
in four parishes (Bienville, Natchitoches, Sabine, and Vernon) in 
Louisiana, and three counties (Angelina, Jasper, and Newton) in Texas. 
Louisiana pinesnake habitat currently considered occupied (based upon 
1993-2015 occurrence data) is primarily concentrated on public lands 
controlled by the Department of Defense (DOD) (Joint Readiness Training 
Center and Fort Polk [Fort Polk] and Peason Ridge), the USFS (KNF and 
Angelina National Forest [ANF]), and privately owned industrial 
timberlands in Louisiana and Texas. There is also a reintroduction 
feasibility-study population of Louisiana pinesnakes that has been 
established from captive-bred snakes in Grant Parish, Louisiana, on KNF 
    Although single observations were not used to establish known 
occupied areas, single individuals have been documented in one 
Louisiana parish and two Texas counties (see Figure 1, above). A single 
Louisiana pinesnake was observed crossing a road in 1994 in Tyler 
County, but no others have been recorded in that county in the 22 years 
since that observation. A single observation of a Louisiana pinesnake 
found dead along a road in 2001 indicates that the current population 
in Natchitoches Parish may have extended into extreme northwestern 
Rapides Parish, Louisiana; however, no more have been sighted in 
Rapides Parish since 2001. A juvenile Louisiana pinesnake was captured 
in 2008, in Nacogdoches County near Garrison, Texas (Pierce 2015, 
unpub. data), suggesting that at least some individuals existed near 
that site as recently as 8 years ago.
    To estimate the size of occupied habitat areas, all Louisiana 
pinesnake records from 1993 to 2015 (Pierce 2015, unpub. data) 
containing location data and meeting the criteria established below 
(157 records), were plotted in a Geographic Information System (GIS). 
Using ArcMap (Version 10.2.1), a minimum convex polygon (MCP) was drawn 
around clusters of records, and a 0.6-mile (mi) (1.0-kilometer (km)) 
buffer was drawn around each MCP, resulting in the estimated occupied 
habitat area (EOHA) for Louisiana pinesnakes represented by that group 
of records. The MCP was buffered to accommodate the fact that trap 
locations were not placed on the landscape with the intent of 
delineating population boundaries. A 0.6-mi (1.0-km) buffer was used 
because telemetry data indicate this is a reasonable approximation of 
the area that a Louisiana pinesnake uses during 1 or more years 
(Rudolph 2008a, pers. comm.). After discussions with experts, including 
Dr. Craig Rudolph and members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums 
(AZA), the Service developed criteria to determine the data and 
methodology to be used for estimating the boundaries of the EOHAs.
    All Louisiana pinesnake verified occurrence records were used for 
EOHA analysis except for: Those obtained prior to 1993 (before 
extensive trapping began); and records older than 11 years (from the 
time of analysis; which is the estimated Louisiana pinesnake 
generational turnover period (Marti 2014, pers. comm.)), when traps 
within 0.6 mi (1 km) of those records had been unproductive for 5 years 
of trap effort following the date of the records.
    That methodology uses records (including non-trap occurrence) 
obtained over a period of intense surveys during the estimated 
generational time of Louisiana pinesnakes in captivity. However, some 
records that are located in areas potentially still occupied by the 
species, where habitat attributes have remained similar or improved 
since observed occurrence, are not used for this estimation of occupied 
range because significant trapping efforts have not produced any 
additional records in that area.
    The original purpose of the EOHAs designation was to match 
proactive habitat management activities to areas most likely to be 
currently occupied by the Louisiana pinesnake (U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service 2014, p. 8). Based on the previously described methodology, the 
following EOHAs have been delineated (Figure 2): (1) The Bienville EOHA 
located on privately owned industrial timberlands in Bienville Parish, 
Louisiana; (2) the Kisatchie EOHA located on USFS lands (the Kisatchie 
Ranger District of the KNF in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana); (3) the 
Peason Ridge EOHA located on DOD lands (Vernon and Sabine Parishes) and 
a small amount of private lands (inholdings) in Louisiana; (4) the Fort 
Polk/Vernon EOHA located on DOD lands (Fort Polk), USFS lands (the 
Vernon Unit/Calcasieu District of the KNF), and a small amount of 
private lands (inholdings) in Vernon Parish, Louisiana; (5) the 
Scrappin' Valley EOHA located primarily on privately owned timberlands 
in Newton County, Texas; (6) the Angelina EOHA located on USFS lands 
(the southern section of ANF in Angelina and Jasper Counties) and 
private lands in Texas; and (7) the Catahoula Reintroduction 
Feasibility EOHA located on USFS lands (the Catahoula Ranger District 
of the KNF in Grant Parish, Louisiana). Utilizing the methods described 
above, the Winn Ranger District of the KNF in Natchitoches Parish, 
Louisiana, and the Sabine National Forest in Sabine

[[Page 69461]]

County, Texas, identified in 2008, are no longer considered occupied.

    Those EOHAs occur on 30,751.9 ac (12,444.8 ha) of DOD lands, 
47,101.3 ac (19,061.2 ha) of USFS lands, 499.7 ac (202.2 ha) of State 
and municipal lands, and 67,324.9 ac (27,245.4 ha) of private lands 
(Table 1).

Table 1--Land Ownership in Acres (Hectares) of Estimated Louisiana Pinesnake Occupied Habitat Areas as Determined for 2016 According to Location Records
                                                                      Through 2015
                                                            [Totals may not sum to rounding]
                                                                                                                                             Total for
                                             Estimated occupied habitat     U.S. Forest    Department of     State and                       estimated
                   State                                area                  Service         Defense        municipal        Private        occupied
                                                                                                                                           habitat area
Louisiana.................................  Bienville...................               0               0           363.7        60,727.2        61,090.9
                                                                                     (0)             (0)         (147.2)      (24,575.5)      (24,722.6)
                                            Kisatchie...................         1,598.8               0               0               0         1,598.8
                                                                                 (647.0)             (0)             (0)             (0)         (647.0)
                                            Peason Ridge................               0         3,147.3               0               0         3,147.3
                                                                                     (0)       (1,273.7)             (0)             (0)       (1,273.7)
                                            Fort Polk/Vernon............        34,164.7        27,601.3               0           222.6        61,988.7
                                                                              (13,826.0)      (11,169.8)             (0)          (90.1)      (25,085.9)
                                            Catahoula Reintroduction....         1,828.5               0               0               0         1,828.5
                                                                                 (739.9)             (0)             (0)             (0)         (739.9)
    Louisiana Total.......................  ............................        37,592.0        30,748.5           363.7        60,949.9       129,654.1
                                                                              (15,213.0)      (12,443.5)         (147.2)      (24,665.6)      (52,469.2)
Texas.....................................  Scrappin' Valley............               0               0            21.3         5,036.5         5,057.8
                                                                                     (0)             (0)           (8.6)       (2,038.2)       (2,046.8)

[[Page 69462]]

                                            Angelina....................         9,509.3             3.3           114.7         1,338.6        10,965.8
                                                                               (3,848.3)           (1.4)          (46.4)         (541.7)       (4,437.7)
    Texas Total...........................  ............................         9,509.3             3.3           136.0         6,375.0        16,023.6
                                                                               (3,848.3)           (1.4)          (55.1)       (2,579.9)       (6,484.5)
        Total Ownership...................  ............................        47,101.3        30,751.9           499.7        67,324.9       145,677.7
                                                                              (19,061.3)      (12,444.8)         (202.2)      (27,245.4)      (58,953.7)

Population Estimates and Status

    The Louisiana pinesnake is recognized as one of the rarest snakes 
in North America (Young and Vandeventer 1988, p. 203; Himes et al. 
2006, p. 114). It was classified in 2007 as endangered on the 
International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN's) Red List of 
Threatened Species (version 3.1; http://www.iucnredlist.org/).
    Most Louisiana pinesnake records that were used to approximately 
delineate occupied habitat for 2016 were acquired by trapping. We 
considered each day that a trap was open a ``trap day.'' Thus, for an 
area being surveyed, all traps in that area that were open contribute 
to the number of trap days (i.e., four traps that are open for 3 days 
each equals 12 trap days). The ratio of trap days and number of unique 
snakes captured is called ``trap success'' (i.e., two unique snakes 
captured during 2,000 trap days = 1 capture per 1,000 trap days or a 
1:1,000 trap success) and was determined for each population. Louisiana 
pinesnake trapping across the species' entire range (including areas 
outside of EOHAs in Louisiana and Texas) during 1993 through 2015 has 
resulted in 101 unique individual captures during 448,892 trap days 
(1:4,444 trap success) (Pierce 2016a, pers. comm.). Trapping 
information can be compared to similar species to get a sense of the 
relative rarity of this species when compared to a similar species 
trapped in a comparable way. For instance, a Florida pinesnake trapping 
effort using similar drift fence trapping methods in one 30,000-ac 
(12,141-ha) section of the species' range captured 87 unique 
individuals during 50,960 trap days (1:585.7 trap success) over a 13-
year period from 2003 to 2015 (Smith 2016b, pers. comm.). The Louisiana 
pinesnake site with the greatest long-term trap success by far, the 
Bienville EOHA, which is 61,090.9 ac (24,722.6 ha), has a trap success 
rate of 1:854.0 between 1993 and 2015 (Pierce 2016a, pers. comm.), 
which is substantially lower than those found in Smith's study of 
Florida pinesnake. Actual population densities cannot be reliably 
estimated from trapping data because mark-recapture analyses cannot be 
conducted without sufficient numbers of Louisiana pinesnake recaptures, 
but similar trapping methods have been used by others to estimate snake 
    All Louisiana pinesnake EOHAs contain at least some suitable 
habitat, and experience varying amounts of beneficial forest 
management. However, most populations appear to show either a decline 
or no conclusive change in trap success through time, indicating that 
numbers of individuals in most populations are likely decreasing 
(Rudolph et al. 2015, p. 8). Despite continued effort, some populations 
have not experienced trap success or other occurrence records for many 
years. For this reason, as discussed earlier, the Winn Ranger District 
of the KNF portion of the Bienville EOHA and the Sabine EOHA are no 
longer considered occupied. Trapping efforts (all provided by Pierce 
(2015, unpub. data)) and habitat management actions are presented below 
for each EOHA.
Bienville EOHA
    Based on trap and other occurrence records (84 occurrences 
(including trap recaptures) from 1988 through 2015) (Pierce 2015, 
unpub. data), the Bienville population is widely believed to be the 
largest extant Louisiana pinesnake population (Rudolph et al. 2006, p. 
465; Reichling et al. 2008, p. 10). For all trapping efforts so far 
(1995 through 2015, not continuous), trap success for this population 
was 1:854. While trap success varies annually, the trap success in this 
area has been consistently greater than for any other population 
overall. Trapping on that private timberland has only recently resumed 
in 2012, after cessation in 2009. The Kepler Lake area of the Bienville 
EOHA has produced the best trap success of any trapping area in areas 
currently known to be inhabited by the species. Consequently, Reichling 
et al. (2008, p. 10) believed this site was critical for the 
preservation of this species. Trapping from a previous effort on the 
Winn District portion of this population between 2000 and 2001 provided 
two captures (in addition to one recapture). Trap efforts in the same 
area from 2004 to 2013 have produced zero captures in 7,525 trap days, 
and the area is now regarded as unoccupied.
    Within the privately owned timberland described above, two disjunct 
areas are managed for the Louisiana pinesnake with thinning, longleaf 
pine restoration, targeted herbicide use, and prescribed burning (see 
``Conservation Efforts to Reduce Habitat Destruction, Modification, or 
Curtailment of Its Range,'' below).
Kisatchie EOHA
    Two relatively recent Louisiana pinesnake occurrence records (one 
non-capture sighting (2003) and one hand-capture (2007)) exist for this 
population. No Louisiana pinesnakes were captured during 12,011 trap 
days (1997 to 2003) on the Kisatchie District of the KNF. However, past 
trapping did not occur in the locations of the records mentioned above. 
Furthermore, despite the presence of substantial amounts of suitable 
habitat on the Kisatchie District, past trapping did not sample the 
best habitat (Rudolph et al. 2006, p. 469). Trapping resumed within 
this population in 2012, in the best habitat, and has continued through 
2015, but no captures (by hand or trap) have occurred since the 2007 
capture (Pierce 2015, unpub. data).
    Active habitat management for the endangered red-cockaded 
woodpecker (Picoides borealis) and the Louisiana pinesnake occur within 
and surrounding the EOHA of this population (see ``Conservation Efforts 

[[Page 69463]]

Reduce Habitat Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment of Its 
Range,'' below).
Peason Ridge EOHA
    Six occurrence records (from 2003 to 2013, all observed after 2005) 
exist for this population; one of which was a non-trap sighting. The 
trapping effort for the last 5 years (2009 to 2013 (8,446 trap days)) 
produced four captures, one in 2010, two in 2012, and one in 2013, with 
a success rate of 1:2,112 (Pierce 2015, unpub. data).
    Active habitat management for the red-cockaded woodpecker and the 
Louisiana pinesnake occurring at this site has stabilized or increased 
the amount of preferable habitat that exhibits suitable vegetative 
characteristics (see ``Conservation Efforts to Reduce Habitat 
Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment of Its Range,'' below).
Fort Polk/Vernon EOHA
    Twenty-two occurrence records from 2003 to 2013, including four 
non-trap sightings and four trap-recaptures, exist for this population. 
Trap success for this population over 5 years (2009 to 2013) is 
estimated to be 1:2,625 (eight unique individual captures out of 21,003 
trap days), which includes all recent unsuccessful surveying on the 
Vernon Unit of the KNF. Since 2003, no captures have occurred on the 
Vernon Unit. Excluding trapping on the Vernon Unit, DOD observed a trap 
success rate over 5 years (2009 to 2013) of 1:1,959 (eight unique 
individual captures during 15,672 trap days) on DOD property (Pierce 
2015, unpub. data). Two snakes were trapped in 2014, and there were 
three records of occurrence in 2015 (one hand-captured and two dead on 
    Active habitat management for the red-cockaded woodpecker and the 
Louisiana pinesnake has stabilized or increased the amount of habitat 
that has suitable vegetative characteristics (see ``Conservation 
Efforts to Reduce Habitat Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment of 
Its Range,'' below).
Scrappin' Valley EOHA
    On this primarily private land, five occurrence records during 2005 
to 2015 exist for this population; however, two of those were road 
mortalities, two were removed from the wild for captive breeding, and 
one was sighted but not captured. There have been no trap captures 
since 2009 during 15,628 trap days within this population and no other 
occurrences. During trapping efforts on this land from 1995 to 1997, 
five captures occurred during 2,128 trap days (a success rate of 
1:426), demonstrating a reduction of trap success at this site (Pierce 
2015, unpub. data).
    Active habitat management for the red-cockaded woodpecker and the 
Louisiana pinesnake occurs at this site (see ``Conservation Efforts to 
Reduce Habitat Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment of Its 
Range,'' below).
    Despite Louisiana pinesnake occurrences as recent as 2008, and 
proactive habitat management by the former and current private 
landowners, the lack of recent trap success when compared to trap 
success in the 1990s suggests that this population has declined due to 
prolonged minimal suitable habitat availability.
Angelina EOHA
    Seven occurrence records during 2003 to 2013 exist for this 
population. Four were unique trap captures, one was a trap recapture, 
one was hand-caught alive on a road, and one previously captured and 
pit-tagged individual was found dead on a road in 2009. Both the trap 
recapture and hand-caught individual were removed from the wild for 
captive breeding. From 2009 to 2013, no unique trap captures have 
occurred within this population during 16,277 trap days. The most 
recent unique individual trap capture at this site was in 2007. 
However, a recapture did occur within this population as recently as 
2012, and that individual was removed from the wild for captive 
breeding. Trap success rates have shown a steady decline throughout the 
effort period: From 1992 to 1997, success rate was 1:652 (2 captures 
during 1,303 trap days); during 1998 to 2005, success rate was 1:3,420 
(2 captures during 6,840 trap days); and during 2007 to 2012, success 
rate was 1:5,305 (3 captures during 15,916 trap days). However, all 
trap effort within this population produced only a total of seven 
unique individual Louisiana pinesnakes since the 1990s (27,656 trap 
days) (Pierce 2015, unpub. data).
    Active habitat management for the red-cockaded woodpecker and the 
Louisiana pinesnake occurs at this site (see ``Conservation Efforts to 
Reduce Habitat Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment of Its 
Range,'' below).
Catahoula Reintroduction Feasibility EOHA
    An informal committee was established to oversee and conduct an 
experimental reintroduction of the Louisiana pinesnake in an attempt to 
demonstrate the feasibility of reintroducing a population using 
individuals from a captive population, and establishment of a viable 
population in restored habitat. In total, 77 captive-bred Louisiana 
pinesnakes (11 in 2010, 15 in 2011, 3 in 2012, 15 in 2013, 1 in 2014, 
15 in 2015, and 17 in 2016) have been released into the wild at the 
Catahoula Ranger District of the KNF (Pierce 2016, unpub. data; Pierce 
2016b, pers. comm.; Smith 2016a, pers. comm.). This area is not near 
any known Louisiana pinesnake populations and not within the known 
historical range of the species. Detection of released snakes is 
occurring within this EOHA through monitoring of deployed Automated PIT 
Tag Recorders (APTRs) and trapping. Prior to March 22, 2016, 60 snakes 
have been released, and as of that date a total of 26 individual snakes 
have been detected at least once after release (detections beginning 1 
day after release): of those, 14 snakes have been detected alive more 
than 60 days after release, of those, 10 have been detected alive in 
the year following the winter after release, of those, 7 have been 
detected 2 years (winters) after release, of those, 3 have been 
detected 3 years (winters) after release, and of those, 1 snake has 
been detected 4 years (winters) after release (Pierce 2016b, pers. 
comm.; Pierce 2016c, pers. comm.).
    Active habitat management for the red-cockaded woodpecker and the 
Louisiana pinesnake occurs at the Catahoula Ranger District site (see 
``Conservation Efforts to Reduce Habitat Destruction, Modification, or 
Curtailment of Its Range,'' below).
Captive-Breeding Population
    The captive Louisiana pinesnake zoo population established in 1984 
was initially maintained through wild collection. The AZA Species 
Survival Plan (SSP) for the Louisiana pinesnake was implemented in 
2000, to manage the zoo population (Reichling et al., in litt. 2015, p. 
1). The goals of the SSP are to: Maintain an assurance colony for wild 
Louisiana pinesnake populations, preserve or increase genetic 
heterozygosity into the future, preserve representative genetic 
integrity of wild populations, and provide individuals as needed for 
research and repopulation for the conservation of wild populations 
(U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2013, pp. 32-33). As of March 2016, the 
captive-breeding Louisiana pinesnake population consists of 111 
individuals (51 males, 53 females, and 7 unsexed individuals) in 18 AZA 
accredited institutions and 2 non-AZA partner institutions (Reichling 
2016, pers. comm.). Initially, three populations were managed based on 
their different geographic origins, which are separated

[[Page 69464]]

by rivers (one from Texas, separated from Louisiana by the Sabine 
River, and two from Louisiana, which are separated by the Red River) 
(Reichling and Schad 2010, p. 1). Recent genetic analyses showed that 
all populations were similar in population structure and the Texas and 
southern Louisiana populations were difficult to separate genetically 
(Kwiatkowski et al. 2014, p. 12). Therefore, currently one group is 
derived from Bienville Parish, Louisiana, founders and the other group 
is a combination of Vernon Parish, Louisiana, and eastern Texas snakes 
(Reichling 2016, pers. comm.).

Summary of Factors Affecting the Species

    Section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1533), and its implementing 
regulations at 50 CFR part 424, set forth the procedures for adding 
species to the Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and 
Plants. Under section 4(a)(1) of the Act, we may list a species based 
on (A) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of its habitat or range; (B) overutilization for 
commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; (C) 
disease or predation; (D) the inadequacy of existing regulatory 
mechanisms; or (E) other natural or manmade factors affecting its 
continued existence. Listing actions may be warranted based on any of 
the above threat factors, singly or in combination. In this section, we 
summarize the biological condition of the species and its resources, 
and the influences of the listing factors on them, to assess the 
species' overall viability and the risks to that viability.

Factor A: The Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or 
Curtailment of Its Habitat or Range

    Both the quantity and quality of the natural longleaf pine 
ecosystem, the primary historical habitat of the Louisiana pinesnake, 
have declined sharply in Louisiana and Texas since European settlement. 
The loss, degradation, and fragmentation of the longleaf pine dominant 
ecosystem was historically caused by logging, turpentining, fire 
suppression, alteration of fire seasonality and periodicity, conversion 
to generally off-site pine species plantations, agriculture, and free-
range hogs (Frost 1993, pp. 24-30, 31, 35). Virtually all virgin timber 
in the southern United States was cut during intensive logging from 
1870 to 1920 (Frost 1993, p. 30). Only about 2.9 percent of longleaf 
pine forests in Louisiana and Texas were uncut old-growth stands in 
1935 (Bridges and Orzell 1989, p. 246). During the latter half of the 
20th century, Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi lost between 60 and 
90 percent of their already reduced longleaf acreage (Outcalt and 
Sheffield 1996, pp. 1-10). By the late 1980s, the natural longleaf pine 
acreage in Louisiana and Texas was only about 15 and 8 percent, 
respectively, of what had existed in 1935 (Bridges and Orzell 1989, p. 
246). Those longleaf pine forests were primarily converted to extensive 
monoculture pine plantations (Bridges and Orzell 1989, p. 246), which 
presumably were not primarily managed for enhancement of herbaceous 
    In short, the longleaf dominant pine forest (longleaf pine forest 
type plus longleaf pine in mixed species stands) in the southeastern 
United States declined approximately 96 percent from the historical 
estimate of 92 million ac (37 million ha) (Frost 1993, p. 20) to 
approximately 3.75 million ac (1.52 million ha) in 1990 (Guldin et al. 
2016, p. 324). Since the 1990s, longleaf pine dominant forest acreage 
has been trending upward in parts of the Southeast through restoration 
efforts (Guldin et al. 2016, pp. 323-324). By 2010, the longleaf 
dominant pine forest stands had increased to approximately 4.3 million 
ac (1.7 million ha) (Oswalt et al. 2012, p. 10; Guldin et al. 2016, pp. 
323-324). A recent estimate for the extent of longleaf dominant pine 
forest in 2015 was 4.7 million ac (2.8 million ha) (America's Longleaf 
Restoration Initiative 2016, p. 12).
    In general, southern forest futures models predict declines of 
overall forest land area in the southeastern United States between 2 
and 10 percent in the next 50 years (Wear and Greis 2013, p. 78). The 
model-projected losses of natural pine forest in the Southeast would be 
mostly the result of conversion to planted pine forests (Wear and Greis 
2013, p. 79). For the southern Gulf region, model runs assuming high 
levels of urbanization and high timber prices predict large percentage 
losses in longleaf pine in some parishes and counties of Louisiana and 
Texas that were historically and that are currently occupied by the 
Louisiana pinesnake, while two Louisiana parishes in the current 
occupied range are expected to gain (less than the percent decline 
predicted in the other parishes and counties) in longleaf pine acreage 
(Klepzig et al. 2014, p. 53). The outer boundary or ``footprint'' of 
the longleaf pine ecosystem across its historical range has contracted 
as recently as the period of 1990 to 2010, with losses (primarily due 
to conversion to loblolly pine) in western Louisiana and eastern Texas 
(Oswalt et al. 2012, pp. 10-14).
    Impacts from urbanization are not consistent throughout the 
Southeast, and most population growth is predicted to occur near major 
cities (Wear and Greis 2013, p. 21), which are generally not near known 
Louisiana pinesnake occurrences; however, the most recent assessment 
still predicts decreased use of land for forests (mainly due to 
urbanization) in the next 45 years in all of the parishes (Louisiana) 
and counties (Texas) historically and currently occupied by the species 
(Klepzig et al. 2014, pp. 21-23).
    High-quality longleaf pine forest habitat, which is generally 
characterized by a high, open canopy and shallow litter and duff 
layers, is maintained by frequent, low-intensity fires, which in turn 
restrict a woody midstory and promote the flowering and seed production 
of fire-stimulated groundcover plants (Oswalt et al. 2012, pp. 2-3). 
The Louisiana pinesnake was historically associated with natural 
longleaf pine forests, which were maintained in good condition by 
natural processes and have the abundant herbaceous vegetation necessary 
to support the Louisiana pinesnake's primary prey, the Baird's pocket 
gopher (Himes 1998, p. 43; Sulentich et al. 1991, p. 3; Rudolph and 
Burgdorf 1997, p. 17). Based on trapping surveys and location records, 
it appears that areas managed with silvicultural practices for fiber 
production that do not allow sufficient herbaceous vegetation growth do 
not support viable Louisiana pinesnake populations (Rudolph et al. 
2006, p. 470) because the snake's pocket gopher prey requires 
herbaceous vegetation for forage.
    Rudolph et al. (2006, p. 467) assessed habitat conditions during 
1999 and 2000, at the locations of all historical Louisiana pinesnake 
records (n = 118 localities) known at that time. They found that 70 
percent (26 of 37) of the localities on public lands met their criteria 
as excellent or good condition, whereas only 33 percent (27 of 81) of 
the localities on private lands met their criteria as excellent or good 
condition. Due to habitat fragmentation, most sites with excellent or 
good habitat were isolated and small (typically a few hundred hectares, 
or less (Rudolph et al. 2006, p. 466)). The distribution of Louisiana 
pinesnakes within the current range was further restricted because 
intensive land use activities and the disruption of natural fire 
regimes had decreased the quantity and quality of the intervening areas 
as habitat for this species (Rudolph et al. 2006, p. 470). Based on the 
low capture rates reported during trapping from 1993 to 2001, and the 
limited habitat availability, Rudolph

[[Page 69465]]

et al. (2006, p. 468) concluded that remnant Louisiana pinesnake 
populations are not large. In fact, during this 9-year trapping period, 
only 24 unique captures of Louisiana pinesnakes occurred out of 2,372 
total unique snake captures in 101,828 trap days (a trap success of 
1:3,775 for Louisiana pinesnake). At many sites, no pinesnakes were 
captured, but even at sites where they were captured, the average trap 
success was only 1:733 (Rudolph et al. 2006, p. 465).
    The disruption of natural fire regimes, due to fire suppression and 
inadequate, infrequent prescribed burning, is the leading factor 
responsible for the degradation of the small amount of remaining 
suitable longleaf pine forest habitat (Rudolph and Burgdorf 1997, p. 
118; Rudolph 2000, p. 7). In the absence of frequent and effective 
fires, upland pine savannah ecosystems rapidly develop a midstory of 
hardwoods and other overstory species that suppress or eliminate any 
herbaceous understory. As the presence of pocket gophers is directly 
related to the extent of herbaceous vegetation available to them, their 
population numbers and distribution decline as such vegetation 
declines, which in turn directly impacts the number and distribution of 
Louisiana pinesnakes. The use of prescribed burning has decreased on 
private timberlands because of legal liability and the expense of 
liability insurance, the planting of pine species which have a reduced 
tolerance to fire, limited funds and personnel, and smoke management 
issues. According to Wear and Greis (2013, p. 509), southern forests 
are likely to see increasing challenges to prescribed burning in the 
future as land-use changes involving fuels management, increased urban 
interface, and revised safety and health regulations will continue to 
constrain prescribed fire efforts. Some of these constraints could be 
in the form of reduced fire intervals or reductions in average area 
burned per fire event (strategies often used in management of pine 
plantations), which may not provide adequate fire intensity or 
frequency to suppress the overgrown understory and midstory conditions 
that limit herbaceous vegetation growth.
    Overstory species other than longleaf pine can be managed to 
provide suitable understory for pocket gophers, but this is generally 
more difficult, as these species lack the physical characteristics and 
ecological adaptations to sustain desired understory conditions during 
all life stages, especially when managed with prescribed fire. 
Specifically, longleaf pine is adapted to thrive with frequent fire 
during all life stages, which allows continual maintenance of 
herbaceous communities. Other pine species lack these adaptations to 
fire that allow for frequent fire during all life stages (especially 
very young trees). Non-longleaf pine communities can be managed to 
provide suitable habitat within a stand when burning is not recommended 
(e.g., very young trees) by using herbicides and other techniques. 
However, if those techniques alter the composition or density of the 
groundcover vegetation and pocket gophers decline in response, it is 
likely that Louisiana pinesnakes will decline in response as well 
(USFWS 2001). In addition, longleaf pine structure (e.g., branch and 
needle structure) naturally allows more sunlight penetration at similar 
stem densities than other pine species.
    Regardless of the methods used to promote herbaceous vegetation in 
the understory, the amount and types of herbaceous vegetation are 
limited by the amount of sunlight able to reach the forest floor and, 
for some species, by the presence of fire (i.e., to scarify seeds, 
promote seed production, and consume leaf litter). Therefore, 
conversion and management of overstory vegetation that does not provide 
for continued maintenance of herbaceous vegetation in otherwise 
suitable habitat will further limit habitat available to the Louisiana 
    Habitat fragmentation threatens the continued existence of all 
Louisiana pinesnake populations, particularly those on private lands. 
This is frequently the result of urban development, conversion of 
longleaf pine sites to intensively managed pine plantations, and an 
increase in the number of roads. When patches of available habitat 
become separated beyond the dispersal range of a species, small 
populations may become less resilient because additions of individuals 
to the population may decline along with their potential genetic 
diversity contributions, thus increasing the risk of extirpation (see 
discussion under Factor E: Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting 
Its Continued Existence).
    In summary, habitat loss and continuing degradation of the 
Louisiana pinesnake's habitat remain a significant threat to this 
species' continued existence.
Conservation Efforts To Reduce Habitat Destruction, Modification, or 
Curtailment of Its Range
    When considering whether or not to list a species under the Act, we 
must identify existing conservation efforts and their effect on the 
species. In this section, we describe the extensive habitat restoration 
efforts that have occurred on Federal lands throughout the range (to a 
lesser extent on private lands) that have reduced the threat of habitat 
loss for some populations. We also discuss the lack of a definitive 
positive response of the Louisiana pinesnake to these efforts, at 
    Existing and Planned Conservation Efforts: As early as the 1980s, 
forest restoration and management had been implemented on Fort Polk, 
Peason Ridge, and adjacent USFS lands to restore and maintain 
conditions of widely spaced trees, clear of dense midstory growth (U.S. 
Department of the Army 2014, p. 21). Management occurred for training 
suitability and red-cockaded woodpecker habitat, and most recently for 
Louisiana pinesnake habitat. The requirements for those three 
objectives happen to have significant overlap, especially the 
maintenance of open canopy pine forest.
    USFS has also implemented habitat restoration and management for 
many years on Sabine National Forest (SNF), ANF, and KNF to benefit the 
red-cockaded woodpecker, as provided for in its land and resource 
management plans (USFS 1996, pp. 107-134; USFS 1999, pp. 2-61 to 2-73). 
In 2003, a candidate conservation agreement (CCA) for the Louisiana 
pinesnake, which includes the Service, USFS, DOD, Texas Parks and 
Wildlife Department (TPWD), and LDWF, was completed. Targeted 
conservation actions are currently being implemented as part of that 
agreement. The CCA is designed to identify and establish beneficial 
habitat management actions for the Louisiana pinesnake on Federal lands 
in Louisiana and Texas, and provides a means for the partnering 
agencies to work cooperatively on projects that avoid and minimize 
impacts to the species. The CCA also set up mechanisms to exchange 
information on successful management practices and coordinate research 
efforts. SNF [Sabine Louisiana pinesnake population considered 
extirpated since 2014] and ANF in Texas, and KNF and Fort Polk in 
Louisiana, agreed in the CCA to continue or start new stem thinning and 
prescribed burning operations in sections of upland pine forests and, 
where possible, to convert forests to longleaf pine (CCA 2003, p. 12-
    Since completion of the CCA, beneficial forest management 
activities conducted by USFS and Fort Polk have been formally dedicated 
to conservation of the Louisiana pinesnake. Removing some trees from a 
dense stand with heavy canopy cover allows more light to reach the 
ground, which can promote

[[Page 69466]]

the growth of herbaceous vegetation, an important food source for the 
primary prey of the Louisiana pinesnake. Prescribed burning helps to 
control midstory cover, particularly hardwood species that compete with 
pine seedlings and reduce light penetration. Converting forests to 
longleaf pine is helpful because longleaf pine is better adapted to 
fire (and tolerates it at an earlier age) than other pine species, and 
therefore is generally easier to manage with prescribed fire over 
multiple rotations. Historically, Louisiana pinesnakes were 
predominantly found in longleaf pine forests, and that forest type was 
historically the dominant type in the areas that now make up the KNF, 
ANF, and Fort Polk.
    The CCA was revised in 2013, and now also includes the U.S. 
Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation 
Service (NRCS) and the AZA as cooperators (U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service 2013, pp. 7-8). That agreement updates, supersedes, and 
improves upon the 2003 CCA, and uses significant new information 
derived from research, threats assessments, and habitat modeling that 
was not available in 2003 to focus conservation actions, including 
beneficial forest management, in areas with the best potential to 
become suitable habitat for the Louisiana pinesnake. Those areas are 
called habitat management units (HMUs), and they were delineated based 
on existing red-cockaded woodpecker habitat management areas (HMAs) in 
upland pine forests. Those areas were further defined by the location 
of preferable and suitable soils (LRSF-Model) for the Louisiana 
pinesnake in order to dedicate resources to areas the species is most 
likely to inhabit. However, the updated CCA addresses threats from 
habitat loss only on Federal lands, and for the activities performed by 
NRCS on private land. The CCA also includes guidance on practices to 
reduce impacts to Louisiana pinesnakes from vehicles on improved roads 
and off-road all-terrain vehicle (ATV) trails (see ``Conservation 
Efforts To Reduce Threats Under Factor E,'' below).
    Thousands of acres of forests on Federal lands have been treated 
over many years with prescribed burning, and that treatment along with 
tree thinning continues to the present. The following tables summarize 
recent forest management activities on Federal lands where Louisiana 
pinesnake populations occur. Values have been rounded to the nearest 

 Table 2--Acres (Hectares) of Prescribed Burning and Thinning Conducted in the Kisatchie Ranger District of the
 KNF (Kisatchie Population) Within the 2014 Delineated EOHA (1,599 Total ac [647 ha]) and the Larger Surrounding
                                        HMU (36,114 Total ac [14,615 ha])
                                                      Prescribed burning  Prescribed burning  Stocking reduction
                        Area                                 2015              2013-2015        (thinning) 2015
EOHA................................................           963 (390)         1,980 (801)               0 (0)
HMU.................................................       4,285 (1,734)     24,893 (10,074)            193 (78)

Table 3--Acres (ha) of Prescribed Burning and Thinning Conducted in the Vernon Unit of the KNF (Fort Polk/Vernon
   Population) Within the 2014 Delineated EOHA (34,487 Total Acres [13,956 ha]) and the Larger Surrounding HMU
                                        (61,387 Total Acres [24,842 ha])
                                                      Prescribed burning  Prescribed burning  Stocking reduction
                        Area                                 2015              2013-2015        (thinning) 2015
EOHA................................................      12,670 (5,127)     43,281 (17,515)         1,541 (624)
HMU.................................................      20,734 (8,391)     74,927 (30,322)         1,670 (676)

   Table 4--Acres (ha) of Prescribed Burning and Thinning Conducted at Fort Polk (Fort Polk/Vernon Population)
  Within the 2014 Delineated EOHA (27,502 Total Acres [11,130 ha]) and the Larger Surrounding HMU (29,037 Total
                                               Acres [11,751 ha])
                                                      Prescribed burning  Prescribed burning  Stocking reduction
                        Area                                 2015              2013-2015        (thinning) 2015
EOHA................................................       7,675 (3,106)      22,628 (9,157)           430 (174)
HMU.................................................       9,159 (3,707)      24,241 (9,810)           586 (237)

Table 5--Acres (Hectares) of Prescribed Burning and Thinning Conducted at Peason Ridge (Peason Ridge Population)
   Within the 2014 Delineated EOHA (4,886 Total ac [1,977 ha]) and the Larger Surrounding HMU (11,265 Total ac
                                                   [4,559 ha])
                                                      Prescribed burning  Prescribed burning  Stocking reduction
                        Area                                 2015              2013-2015        (thinning) 2015
EOHA................................................           489 (198)       2,597 (1,051)               0 (0)
HMU.................................................       2,651 (1,073)       7,440 (3,011)            100 (40)

[[Page 69467]]

    Table 6--Acres (ha) of Prescribed Burning and Thinning Conducted in ANF (ANF Population) Within the 2014
    Delineated EOHA (10,966 Total ac [4,438 ha]) and the Larger Surrounding HMU (24,200 Total ac [9,793 ha])
                                                      Prescribed burning  Prescribed burning  Stocking reduction
                        Area                                 2015              2013-2015        (thinning) 2015
EOHA................................................       2,735 (1,107)      10,179 (4,119)               0 (0)
HMU.................................................       6,702 (2,712)      18,940 (7,665)               0 (0)

   Table 7--Acres (Hectares) of Prescribed Burning and Thinning Conducted in the Catahoula Ranger District KNF
 (Catahoula Reintroduction Feasibility Population) Within the 2014 Delineated EOHA (1,828 Total ac [740 ha]) and
                                the Larger Surrounding HMU (57,394 Total ac [ha])
                                                      Prescribed burning  Prescribed burning  Stocking reduction
                        Area                                 2015              2011-2015        (thinning) 2015
EOHA................................................           784 (317)           784 (317)               0 (0)
HMU.................................................       8,279 (3,350)     40,419 (16,357)            231 (93)

    Within the Bienville EOHA, the 851-ac (344-ha) Kepler Lake and 859-
ac (348-ha) Sandylands Core Management Areas (CMAs) (approximately 2.8 
percent of the EOHA) were voluntarily established by the landowners at 
the time to be managed for Louisiana pinesnake habitat. According to 
the current landowner (Cook 2016a, 2016b, pers. comm.), in the 
loblolly-longleaf pine mixed stands of the Kepler Lake and Sandylands 
CMAs, approximately 50 percent (430 ac (174 ha)) and 55 percent (475 ac 
(192 ha)), respectively, have been planted with longleaf pine beginning 
in 2001. Using a combination of supplemental funding sources (e.g., 
Service Private Stewardship Grant, Western Gulf Coastal Plain 
Prescribed Burning Initiative), the present landowner has completed 
prescribed burning of hundreds of acres on the CMAs each year since 
2000 (except in 2005, 2008, 2009, and 2012). Additionally, midstory 
(hardwood and shrub) control is achieved in the CMAs by application of 
herbicide in narrow bands alongside the planted trees instead of 
broadcast spraying, which limits damage of herbaceous vegetation.
    Most of the 59,380 acres (24,030 ha) of timberlands surrounding the 
CMAs of the Bienville population are managed with intensive 
silvicultural practices that typically preclude continual, robust 
herbaceous vegetation growth. Reichling et al. (2008, p. 10) did not 
believe that isolated management areas that were 800 to 1,000 ac (324 
to 405 ha) or less in size were sufficient to support viable Louisiana 
pinesnake populations, and therefore concluded the snakes in the Kepler 
Lake CMA were likely dependent upon the surrounding habitat. 
Consequently, Reichling et al. (2008, p. 10) felt that it was essential 
to the conservation of the species to restore and preserve the 
thousands of hectares of privately owned, upland, xeric habitat that 
surround the Kepler Lake CMA.
    The 5,057.8-ac (2,046.8-ha) Scrappin' Valley EOHA is located at 
least partially within 11,000 acres (4,452 ha) of privately owned 
forested land referred to as Scrappin' Valley. That area was managed 
for game animals for decades (Reid 2016, pers. comm.), and one section 
(approximately 600 ac (243 ha)) was managed specifically for quail. 
Prescribed burning was applied only to the 600-ac (243-ha) quail area 
annually and to another 1,500 ac (607 ha) at less frequent intervals. 
The remainder of the property was not beneficially managed for 
Louisiana pinesnake habitat. In 2012, the property was subdivided and 
sold as three separate properties of 1,900, 1,500, and 7,700 acres 
(769, 607, and 3,116 ha), respectively.
    On the 1,900-ac (769-ha) property from 2013 to spring 2016, 
hundreds of acres (some acres burned multiple times) of longleaf 
dominated pine forest occupied by the red-cockaded woodpecker or near 
red-cockaded woodpecker clusters were prescribed-burned each year; 
hardwood removal was conducted on 300 ac (121 ha); thinning by removal 
of loblolly and slash pine trees was conducted throughout the entire 
property; and 105 ac (42 ha) of longleaf pine restoration (removal of 
existing trees and planted with long leaf pine) was completed. The 
landowner is also currently working with The Nature Conservancy toward 
a perpetual conservation easement on 2,105 ac (852 ha) to protect 
habitat for the red-cockaded woodpecker and the Louisiana pinesnake.
    On the 1,500-ac (607-ha) property in 2015, approximately 250 ac 
(101 ha) of loblolly pine with dense understory vegetation was 
harvested, and 200 ac (81 ha) of the area was planted with longleaf 
pine. The landowner voluntarily agreed to manage the area to promote 
longleaf pine forest over a 10-year period through a Partners for Fish 
and Wildlife Program agreement with the Service.
    On the 7,700-ac (3,116-ha) property, most of the forest was not 
burned, so there is a dense midstory. Several hundred acres are 
comprised of young loblolly pine plantation. In 2014, approximately 400 
ac (162 ha) were harvested, and in 2015, approximately 205 ac (83 ha) 
of longleaf pine were planted. The landowner voluntarily agreed to 
manage the area to promote longleaf pine forest over a 10-year period 
through a Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program agreement with the 
Service. Additionally, approximately 1,000 ac of this property are 
prescribed burned annually.
    Overall, less than 50 percent of the Scrappin' Valley EOHA is being 
managed beneficially for the Louisiana pinesnake, but more than 50 
percent of the area is covered under safe harbor agreements (SHAs) for 
the red-cockaded woodpecker, which require forest management that is 
generally beneficial to the Louisiana pinesnake.
    Longleaf pine forest improvement and restoration efforts are also 
currently occurring within the historical range of the Louisiana 
pinesnake on smaller private properties, especially through programs 
administered by natural resource agencies such as NRCS, and nonprofit 
organizations such as The Nature Conservancy (TNC). NRCS has provided 
assistance with thousands of acres of forest thinning, longleaf pine 
planting, and prescribed burning (Chevallier 2016, pers.comm.). 
However, the extent of overlap of

[[Page 69468]]

increases in longleaf pine acreage, due to this program, with occupied 
or potential Louisiana pinesnake habitat (i.e., preferable or suitable 
soils) is unknown because the specific locations of the projects within 
the area serviced are private and unavailable to the Service. TNC owns 
1,551 ac (628 ha) of land within the Vernon Unit of KNF that is managed 
for the red-cockaded woodpecker and the Louisiana pinesnake (Jacob 
2016, pers. comm.).
    The Service and LDWF are currently developing a programmatic 
candidate conservation agreement with assurances (CCAA) for the 
Louisiana pinesnake. A CCAA is intended to facilitate the conservation 
of candidate species by giving non-Federal property owners (enrollees) 
incentives to implement conservation measures. The incentive to a 
property owner provided through a CCAA is that the Service will impose 
no further land-, water-, or resource-use restrictions beyond those 
agreed to in the CCAA should the species later become listed under the 
Act. If the species does become listed, the property owner is 
authorized to take the covered species as long as the level of take is 
consistent with the level identified and agreed upon in the CCAA. The 
CCAA policy considers that all CCAAs will provide benefits to covered 
species through implementation of voluntary conservation measures that 
are agreed to and implemented by property owners.
    The Louisiana pinesnake programmatic CCAA is intended to establish 
a framework for participation of the Service and LDWF, and enrollees, 
through specific actions for the protection, conservation, management, 
and improvement of the status of the Louisiana pinesnake. Initiation of 
this CCAA will further the conservation of the Louisiana pinesnake on 
private lands by protecting known populations and additional potential 
habitat by reducing threats to the species' habitat and survival, 
restoring degraded potential habitat on preferred and suitable soils, 
and potentially reintroducing captive-bred snakes to select areas of 
the restored habitat.
    The CCAA is part of an application for an enhancement of survival 
permit (permit) under section 10(a)(1)(A) of the Act. The permit, which 
will be held by LDWF, will authorize take of the Louisiana pinesnake 
during the period of the CCAA. The permitted take will be that 
resulting from activities covered in the CCAA and the individual 
cooperative management agreements between LDWF and enrollees in 
Louisiana who are willing to engage in voluntary conservation actions 
for the Louisiana pinesnake. Take authorization provided by the permit 
will be extended to participating enrollees through certificates of 
inclusion (COI) issued by LDWF.
    The Louisiana pinesnake programmatic CCAA has not been finalized, 
and thus no enrollment has been initiated. The extent of landowner 
participation and subsequent conservation benefits are yet to be 
determined; therefore no conservation benefits to the Louisiana 
pinesnake from the programmatic CCAA are considered in this proposed 
    Concentrating effort by using the LRSF-Model to guide priorities, 
LDWF has been approaching landowners in the Louisiana pinesnake's range 
in Louisiana to recruit them into the Natural Areas Registry Program 
(Gregory 2013, pers. comm.). Landowners agree to protect the area and 
its unique natural elements to the best of their abilities, and they 
can receive, free of charge, an annual ecological check-up on the 
health of the plants, animals, or habitat of special concern, and 
preparation of a management plan.
    Additional research and survey efforts are being funded by the 
Texas Comptroller's office as part of the ``Keeping Texas First'' 
initiative. The research is underway and being conducted by Texas A&M 
University; research results are expected to provide additional 
information on the species' habitat requirements in Texas, which may 
contribute to future conservation efforts. Surveyors are expected to 
access suitable habitat on private lands that have previously been 
    Effectiveness of Conservation Efforts: In summary, forest 
management beneficial to the Louisiana pinesnake has occurred across 
significant portions of most Louisiana pinesnake EOHAs. The significant 
increases in the acreages of burning and thinning conducted have 
improved habitat conditions on many Federal lands that support 
Louisiana pinesnake populations (Rudolph 2008b, pers. comm.), and 
reduced the threat of habitat loss in those areas. On private land, 
there has also been habitat restoration and beneficial management, but 
it has not been as consistent and is generally on a smaller scale 
(i.e., less than about 3,000 ac (1,214 ha) in the Scrappin' Valley 
EOHA) than on Federal lands. The Bienville population, which appears to 
be the most abundant, has only about 1,700 ac (688 ha) of habitat 
currently managed specifically for the Louisiana pinesnake, and the 
home range of one Louisiana pinesnake can be as much as 267 ac (108 
    There has been no definitive trend of increased trap success in 
Louisiana pinesnake populations over time (Rudolph et al. 2015, p. 33; 
Pierce 2015, unpub. data). As just discussed, extensive habitat 
restoration efforts have occurred on Federal lands where the Louisiana 
pinesnake occurs. Although the threat of habitat loss has been reduced 
on much of these lands, none of the populations has shown a definitive 
response to forest management conservation activities. Those Louisiana 
pinesnake populations are already small, and the species has a low 
reproductive rate, so recruitment to the population may not be detected 
for several years. However, it is also possible that increases in snake 
abundance may not be captured by traps currently in operation because 
some newly-created suitable habitat may be in areas farther from the 
current trap locations.
Summary of Factor A
    In summary, the loss and degradation of habitat was a significant 
historical threat, and remains a current threat, to the Louisiana 
pinesnake. The historical loss of habitat within the longleaf pine 
ecosystem occupied by Louisiana pinesnakes occurred primarily due to 
timber harvest and subsequent conversion of pine forests to 
agriculture, residential development, and managed pine plantations with 
only intermittent periods of open canopy. This loss of habitat has 
slowed considerably in recent years, in part due to efforts to restore 
the longleaf pine ecosystem in the Southeast. In areas occupied by the 
Louisiana pinesnake on USFS and U.S. Army lands, mixed longleaf and 
loblolly pine forests are managed beneficially for the species through 
thinning, and through prescribed burning of thousands of acres of 
forests every year. However, habitat loss is continuing today on 
private land due to incompatible forestry practices, conversion to 
agriculture, and urbanization, which result in increasing habitat 
fragmentation (see discussion under Factor E: Other Natural or Manmade 
Factors Affecting Its Continued Existence). While the use of prescribed 
fire for habitat management and more compatible site preparation has 
seen increased emphasis in recent years, expanded urbanization, 
fragmentation, and regulatory constraints will continue to restrict the 
use of fire and cause further habitat degradation (Wear and Greis 2013, 
p. 509).
    Extensive conservation efforts are being implemented that are 
restoring and maintaining Louisiana pinesnake habitat for the Fort 
Polk/Vernon, Peason Ridge, Kisatchie, and Angelina populations. Those 
populations are not

[[Page 69469]]

threatened by continuing habitat loss. Portions of occupied habitat of 
the Scrappin' Valley (approximately 50 percent) and Bienville 
populations (about 2.8 percent) of the Louisiana pinesnake are also 
currently being managed beneficially through voluntary agreements. 
However, future conservation on private lands, which can change 
ownership and management practices, is uncertain, and the remaining 
land in the EOHAs with suitable or preferable soils is generally 
unsuitable habitat because of the current vegetation structure.
    Although the threat of habitat loss has been reduced in much of the 
Louisiana pinesnake's occupied habitat overall, the likely most 
abundant population has relatively little beneficially managed land, 
and none of the populations has yet shown a definitive response to 
forest management conservation activities.

Factor B: Overutilization for Commercial, Recreational, Scientific, or 
Educational Purposes

    Ongoing take of Louisiana pinesnakes in Louisiana for commercial, 
recreational, scientific, or educational purposes has not been 
previously considered a threat (Boundy 2008, pers. comm.). Removal from 
wild populations for scientific purposes is not expected to increase 
significantly in the future. Any potential overutilization would be 
almost exclusively to meet the demand from recreational snake 
enthusiasts. According to a 2009 report of the United Nations 
Environment Program--World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP--WCMC 
2009, p. 17), captive-bred Louisiana pinesnakes were advertised for 
sale on four German Web sites, and two U.S. breeders were listed on 
another Web site. However, current levels of Louisiana pinesnake 
collection to support the commercial captive-bred snake market have not 
been quantified. Reichling (2008, pers. comm.) and Vandeventer (2016, 
pers. comm.) stated that there appears to be very little demand for 
this species by private collectors; however, there are at least a few 
Louisiana pinesnake breeders, and the snakes were still featured in 
advertisements recently for several hundred dollars for one adult 
(Castellanos 2016, pers. obs.).
    Given the restricted distribution, presumed low population sizes, 
and low reproductive potential of Louisiana pinesnakes, even moderate 
collecting pressure would negatively affect extant populations of this 
species. Webb et al. (2002, p. 64) concluded that, in long-lived snake 
species exhibiting low fecundity, the sustained removal of adults from 
isolated populations would eventually lead to extirpation.
    Non-permitted collection of the Louisiana pinesnake is prohibited 
by State law in Texas and Louisiana, and most areas in Louisiana where 
extant Louisiana pinesnake populations occur restrict public access or 
prohibit collection. In addition, general public collection of the 
Louisiana pinesnake would be difficult (Gregory 2008, pers. comm.) due 
to the species' secretive nature, semi-fossorial habits, and current 
    Previously in Texas, TPWD has allowed captured Louisiana pinesnakes 
to be removed from the wild by permitted scientific researchers to help 
supplement the low representation of snakes from Texas populations in 
the AZA-managed captive breeding program. Currently, LDWF does not 
permit the removal from the wild of any wild-caught Louisiana 
pinesnakes to add founders to the AZA-managed captive-breeding program.
    Although concern has been expressed that Federal listing may 
increase the demand for wild-caught animals (McNabb 2014, in litt.), 
based on the best available information, we have no evidence that 
overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or 
educational purposes is currently a threat to the Louisiana pinesnake.

Factor C: Disease or Predation

    Like many other animals, the Louisiana pinesnake is potentially 
impacted by native and introduced predators.
    Known natural wild predators of pinesnakes (Pituophis) include 
mammals such as shrews, hawks, raccoons, skunks, and red foxes (Ernst 
and Ernst 2003, p. 284; Yager et al. 2006, p. 34). All of these species 
are common in the range of the Louisiana pinesnake. Several of these 
mammalian predators may be anthropogenically enhanced; that is, their 
numbers often increase with human development adjacent to natural areas 
(Fischer et al. 2012, pp. 810-811). Birds, especially hawks, are also 
known to prey on pinesnakes (Ernst and Ernst 2003, p. 284; Yager et al. 
2006, p. 34). In one Louisiana pinesnake occurrence record, the snake 
was described as being ``in combat with hawk,'' presumably a predation 
attempt by the bird (Young and Vandeventer 1988, p. 204; Pierce 2015, 
unpub. data). Some snake species prey on other snakes, including 
pinesnakes. The scarlet snake (Cemophora coccinea) has been documented 
to prey on northern pinesnake eggs (Burger et al. 1992, p. 260). This 
species is found within the range of the Louisiana pinesnake. An 
eastern coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum flagellum), which is an 
abundant species in the Louisiana pinesnake's range, was observed 
attempting to predate a juvenile northern pinesnake in North Carolina 
(Beane 2014, p. 143). Speckled kingsnakes (Lampropeltis getula 
holbrooki) prey on pinesnakes (Ernst and Ernst 2003, p. 279), and one 
caught in a trap set for the Louisiana pinesnake was observed to have 
recently consumed another snake (Gregory 2015, pers. comm.).
    Pinesnakes also suffer from attacks by domesticated mammals, 
including dogs and cats (Ernst and Ernst 2003, p. 284). Lyman et al. 
(2007, p. 39) reported an attack on a black pinesnake by a stray 
domestic dog, which resulted in the snake's death.
    Invasive feral hogs are known to inhabit some Louisiana pinesnake 
EOHAs (Gregory 2016, pers. comm.), including the Catahoula 
Reintroduction Feasibility EOHA (Nolde 2016, pers. comm.), and are 
known to prey upon vertebrate animals, including snakes (Wood and Roark 
1980, p. 508). They will also consume eggs of ground-nesting birds 
(Henry 1969, p. 170; Timmons et al. 2011, pp. 1-2) and reptiles (Elsey 
et al. 2012, pp. 210-213); however, there is no direct evidence that 
feral hogs prey on Louisiana pinesnakes or their eggs. Therefore, at 
this time, feral hogs are not known to be a threat to the Louisiana 
pinesnake. The Service and USFS are currently engaged in feral hog 
population control throughout Louisiana and Texas.
    Red imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta), an invasive species, 
have been implicated in trap mortalities of black pinesnakes during 
field studies (Baxley 2007, p. 17). Red imported fire ants also occur 
in areas occupied by Louisiana pinesnakes and are potential predators 
of Louisiana pinesnake eggs and hatchlings (Parris et al. 2002, p. 514; 
Beane 2014, p. 142); they have also been documented predating snake 
eggs under experimental conditions (Diffie et al. 2010, p. 294).
    While there are no documented occurrences of successful predation 
(excessive or otherwise) specifically on Louisiana pinesnakes, 
predation on pinesnakes has been documented (Burger et al. 1992, 
entire; Baxley 2007, p. 17; Ernst and Ernst 2003, p. 284; Ernst and 
Ernst 2003, p. 284; Yager et al. 2006, p. 34). Even with the assumption 
that the Louisiana pinesnake is currently subject only to natural, 
historical types and rates of predation without additional pressure 
from invasive predators (e.g., feral hogs,

[[Page 69470]]

red imported fire ants), the synergistic effect of that predation, 
together with other known sources of unnatural mortality on the 
currently reduced size of remaining Louisiana pinesnake populations, 
constitutes a threat to the species.
    Snake fungal disease (SFD) is an emerging disease in certain 
populations of wild snakes. It has been linked to mortality events for 
other species, including one juvenile broad-banded watersnake (Nerodia 
fasciata confluens [Blanchard]) in Louisiana (Glorioso et al. 2016, p. 
N5). The causative fungus (Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola) (Lorch et al. 
2015, p. 5; Allender et al. 2015, p. 6) and evidence of disease have 
been documented in one Louisiana pinesnake. Symptoms of SFD (e.g., skin 
lesions) were found on one Louisiana pinesnake; scale clippings from 
the snake were analyzed and the causative fungus was positively 
identified (Lorch et al., in press). However, while SFD is suspected of 
threatening small, isolated populations of susceptible snake species, 
we currently have no evidence that SFD is negatively affecting 
Louisiana pinesnake individuals or populations. We know of no other 
diseases that are affecting the species, and, therefore, at this time, 
disease is not considered a threat to the Louisiana pinesnake.

Factor D: The Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms

    In Texas, the Louisiana pinesnake is listed as State threatened, 
and prohibited from unauthorized collection (31 Texas Administrative 
Code [TAC] sections 65.171-176). As of February 2013, unpermitted 
killing or removal of native species of reptiles from the wild is 
prohibited in Louisiana (Louisiana Administrative Code, title 76, part 
XV, Reptiles and Amphibians, chapter 1, section 101.J.3(f)). Collection 
or harassment of Louisiana pinesnake is also specifically prohibited on 
USFS properties in Louisiana (USDA Forest Service 2002, p. 1). The 
capture, removal, or killing of non-game wildlife from Fort Polk and 
Peason Ridge (DOD land) is prohibited without a special permit (U.S. 
Department of the Army 2008, p. 6; U.S. Department of the Army 2013, p. 
51). USFS's land and resource management plans (KNF, ANF), the Army's 
integrated natural resources management plans (INRMPs) (Fort Polk Main 
Post and Peason Ridge), and the Louisiana pinesnake CCA all require 
habitat management that is beneficial to the Louisiana pinesnake for 
the Kisatchie NF, Angelina NF, Fort Polk/Vernon, and Peason Ridge 
populations (see ``Conservation Efforts to Reduce Habitat Destruction, 
Modification, or Curtailment of Its Range,'' above). The Service has 
never been informed of any difficulties in the implementation or 
enforcement of the existing regulatory mechanisms that protect 
Louisiana pinesnakes by TPWD, LDWF, or Federal land managers, and no 
occurrences of noncompliance, including killing of snakes, have been 
reported to us (see Factor E discussion, below).
    Its habitat requirements being similar to that of the red-cockaded 
woodpecker, the Louisiana pinesnake receives indirect protection of its 
habitat via the protections of the Act provided for the endangered red-
cockaded woodpecker, where it co-occurs with the red-cockaded 
woodpecker on Federal lands.
    These existing regulatory mechanisms provide no protection from the 
threat of Louisiana pinesnake habitat loss and degradation on privately 
owned lands, including those which contain the Bienville and Scrappin' 
Valley populations of the Louisiana pinesnake. Private landowners 
within some occupied habitat of the Scrappin' Valley population have 
voluntarily committed to agreements with the Service to manage those 
areas with prescribed burning and to promote the longleaf pine 
ecosystem for 10 years.
    In summary, although existing regulatory mechanisms appear to be 
adequate to prohibit direct harm to individual Louisiana pinesnakes 
across their entire range, and offer some protection to habitat on 
publicly owned land, they offer no protection to the already degraded, 
fragmented, and declining habitat that exists on private lands.

Factor E: Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting Its Continued 

    The historical loss, degradation, and fragmentation of the longleaf 
pine ecosystem across the entire historical range of the Louisiana 
pinesnake have resulted in six natural extant Louisiana pinesnake 
populations that are isolated and small. Habitat fragmentation and 
degradation on lands in between extant populations (Rudolph et al. 
2006, p. 470) have likely reduced the potential for successful 
dispersal among remnant populations, as well as the potential for 
natural recolonization of vacant or extirpated habitat patches.
    Small, isolated populations resulting from habitat fragmentation 
are vulnerable to the threats of decreased demographic viability, 
increased susceptibility of extirpation from stochastic environmental 
factors (e.g., extreme weather events, epidemic disease), and the 
potential loss of valuable genetic resources resulting from genetic 
isolation with subsequent genetic drift, decreases in heterozygosity, 
and potentially inbreeding depression (Lacy 1987, p. 147). Kwiatkowski 
et al. (2014, pp. 15-18) found that the wild populations of the 
Louisiana pinesnake had lower heterozygosity and higher inbreeding than 
what is expected from a randomly breeding population. Low genetic 
diversity in small, isolated populations has been associated with 
negative effects on reproduction in snakes (Madsen 1996, p. 116). 
Recovery of a Louisiana pinesnake population from the existing 
individuals within the population following a decline is also uncertain 
because of the species' low reproductive rate (smallest clutch size 
[three to five] of any North American colubrid snake) (Reichling 1990, 
p. 221). Additionally, it is extremely unlikely that habitat corridors 
linking extant populations will be secured and restored; therefore, the 
loss of any extant population will be permanent without future 
reintroduction and successful recruitment of captive-bred individuals.
    Roads surrounding and traversing the remaining Louisiana pinesnake 
habitat pose a direct threat to the species. Population viability 
analyses have shown that extinction probabilities for some snake 
species may increase due to road mortality (Row et al. 2007, p. 117). 
In an assessment of data from radio-tracked eastern indigo snakes 
(Drymarchon corais couperi), it was found that adult snakes have 
relatively high survival in conservation core areas, but greatly 
reduced survival in edges of these areas along highways and in suburbs 
(Breininger et al. 2012, p. 361). In a Texas snake study, an observed 
deficit of snake captures in traps near roads suggests that a 
substantial proportion of the total number of snakes may have been 
eliminated due to road-related mortality (Rudolph et al. 1999, p. 130). 
That study found that populations of large snakes may be depressed by 
50 percent or more due to proximity to roads, and measurable impacts 
may extend up to approximately 0.5 mi (850 m) from roads. During a 
radio-telemetry study in Louisiana and Texas, 3 of the 15 (20 percent) 
Louisiana pinesnake deaths documented could be attributed to vehicle 
mortality (Himes et al. 2002, p. 686). Approximately 16 percent (37 of 
235) of all documented Louisiana pinesnake occurrences were on roads, 
and about half of those were dead individuals (Pierce 2015, unpub. 
data). During Duran's (1998, pp. 6, 34) study on Camp Shelby, 
Mississippi, 17

[[Page 69471]]

percent of the black pinesnakes with transmitters were killed while 
attempting to cross a road. In a larger study currently being conducted 
on Camp Shelby, 14 (38 percent) of the 37 pinesnakes found on the road 
between 2004 to 2012 were found dead, and these 14 individuals 
represent about 13 percent of all the pinesnakes found on Camp Shelby 
during that 8-year span (Lyman et al. 2012, p. 42). In Louisiana and 
Texas, areas with relatively large areas of protected suitable habitat 
and controlled access such as Fort Polk, KNF, and ANF, have several 
roads located within Louisiana pinesnake occupied habitat, and there 
have been a total of eight known mortalities due to vehicles in those 
areas (Pierce 2015, unpub. data).
    In addition, Dodd et al. (2004, p. 619) determined that roads 
fragment habitat for wildlife. Clark et al. (2010, pp. 1059-1069) 
studied the impacts of roads on population structure and connectivity 
in timber rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus). They found that roads 
interrupted dispersal and negatively affected genetic diversity and 
gene flow among populations of this large snake, and was likely due to 
mortality and avoidance of roads (Clark et al. 2010, pp. 1059, 1067).
    Malicious killing of snakes by humans is a significant issue in 
snake conservation because snakes arouse fear and resentment from the 
general public (Bonnet et al. 1999, p. 40). Intentional killing of 
black pinesnakes by humans has been documented (Duran 1998, p. 34; 
Lyman et al. 2008, p. 34). The intentional killing of Louisiana 
pinesnakes by humans is not unlikely, but because of the species' 
relatively low abundance and secretive nature, it likely happens very 
infrequently and, therefore, is not considered a threat at this time.
    On many construction project sites, erosion control blankets are 
used to lessen impacts from weathering, secure newly modified surfaces, 
and maintain water quality and ecosystem health. However, the commonly 
used polypropylene mesh netting (also often utilized for bird 
exclusion) has been documented as being an entanglement hazard for many 
snake species, causing lacerations and sometimes mortality (Stuart et 
al. 2001, pp. 162-163; Barton and Kinkead 2005, p. 34A; Kapfer and 
Paloski 2011, p. 1; Zappalorti 2016, p. 19). This netting often takes 
years to decompose, creating a long-term hazard to snakes, even when 
the material has been discarded (Stuart et al. 2001, p. 163). Although 
no known instance of injury or death from this netting has been 
documented for Louisiana pinesnakes, it has been demonstrated to have 
negative impacts on other terrestrial snake species of all sizes and 
thus poses a potential threat to the Louisiana pinesnake when used in 
its habitat.
    Exotic plant species degrade habitat for wildlife, and in the 
Southeast, longleaf pine forest associations are susceptible to 
invasion by the exotic cogongrass (Imperata cylindrica). That plant 
species may rapidly encroach into areas undergoing habitat restoration, 
and is very difficult to eradicate once it has become established, 
requiring aggressive control with herbicides (Yager et al. 2010, pp. 
229-230). Cogongrass displaces native grasses, greatly reducing 
foraging areas for some animals, and forms thick mats that restrict 
movement of ground-dwelling wildlife; it also burns at high 
temperatures that can kill or injure native seedlings and mature trees 
(DeBerry and Pashley 2008, p. 74; Alabama Cooperative Extension System 
2005, p. 1). Its value as forage for pocket gophers is not known. 
Currently, cogongrass is limited to only a few locations in Louisiana 
and Texas, and is not considered a threat to the Louisiana pinesnake. 
However, cogongrass has significantly invaded States to the east of 
Louisiana, such as Alabama and Mississippi (Alabama Cooperative 
Extension System 2005, p. 1-4; USDA NRCS Plant Database 2016, p. 2), 
where it occurs in pine forests on Camp Shelby (Yager et al. 2005, p. 
23) potentially impacting the habitat of black pinesnakes found there.
    The effects of climate change are predicted to have profound 
impacts on humans and wildlife in nearly every part of the world 
(International Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] 2014, p. 6). One 
downscaled projection for future precipitation change within the 
historical range of the Louisiana pinesnake varies between increasing 
and decreasing, but the average change is between 0.1 in (0.254 cm) 
drier and 1.1 in (2.8 cm) drier from 2020 to 2039 (Pinemap 2016, 
entire). Precipitation is projected to decrease even more for the 20 
years following 2039. Additionally, the average summer temperature in 
the species' historical range is expected to increase by 2.7-3.5 
degrees Fahrenheit (Pinemap 2016, entire). Increasing temperature and 
decreasing precipitation could potentially affect the pine forest 
habitat of the Louisiana pinesnake due to drought stress on trees, and 
the snake itself may be susceptible to injury from higher temperatures 
or from decreased water availability. However, the Service is not aware 
of any information that would substantiate those effects or how the 
Louisiana pinesnake might adapt to those potential environmental 
    Effects of native phytophagous (plant-eating) insect species on 
Louisiana pinesnake habitat may increase due to the effects of climate 
change. In a study that modeled the effects of the southern pine beetle 
(Dendroctonus frontalis) related to environmental variables, southern 
pine beetle outbreak risk and subsequent damage to southern pine 
forests were substantially increased when considered for four separate 
climate change scenarios (Gan 2004, p. 68). In the openings left in the 
beetle-damaged pine forests, hardwoods may become the canopy dominants, 
and invasive vegetation may be more likely to colonize (Waldrop 2010, 
p. 4; Coleman et al. 2008, pp. 1409-1410), both of which can decrease 
the amount of herbaceous vegetation that the Louisiana pinesnake's 
primary prey (Baird's pocket gopher) depends upon for food.
    The Service considers the effects of increased temperatures, 
decreased precipitation, and increased insect impacts on the Louisiana 
pinesnake and its habitat due to climate change to be a potential 
threat in the future; however, because of the uncertainty of the rate, 
scale, and location of impacts due to climate effects, climate change 
is not currently considered a threat to the species.
Conservation Efforts To Reduce Threats Under Factor E
    Efforts to reduce Factor E threats would have to address increasing 
the resiliency of individual populations by increasing abundance and 
decreasing mortality, or preferably both. Currently, there are ongoing 
efforts to reduce at least some types of mortality and to study the 
potential of increasing the number of wild Louisiana pinesnakes via 
introduction of captive-bred individuals.
    As discussed above under Population Estimates and Status, efforts 
to reintroduce Louisiana pinesnakes have been conducted only at the KNF 
Catahoula District site, where the Louisiana pinesnake is not known to 
have historically occurred. So far, there have been no attempts to 
augment existing populations of Louisiana pinesnakes with captive-bred 
individuals. Reintroduction, with improved success, done in multiple 
populations where appropriate habitat is available, has the potential 
to eventually increase the number of individuals and populations, 
increase genetic heterozygosity, and alleviate presumed inbreeding 
depression in the populations, making them more

[[Page 69472]]

resistant to threats described for Factor E.
    As outlined in the CCA, the U.S. Army has committed to avoiding use 
erosion control blankets, and USFS is committed to trying to locate ATV 
routes outside of the boundaries of Louisiana pinesnake occupied 
habitat. Additionally, some improved roads on National Forests are also 
closed to the public during certain times of the year (e.g., September 
to February at ANF [U.S. Forest Service 2015, entire]), which should 
reduce the number of pinesnakes potentially killed by vehicle traffic 
during those times.
    In summary, a variety of natural or manmade factors, alone and in 
combination with other factors, currently threaten the Louisiana 
pinesnake. Fire suppression has been considered a primary reason for 
continuing degradation of the pine forests in Louisiana and Texas. 
Roads and rights-of-way, and fragmented habitat, isolate populations 
beyond the dispersal range of the species. Mortality caused by vehicle 
strikes is a threat because there are many roads bisecting Louisiana 
pinesnake habitat, and the remaining populations appear to be small and 
declining. The species' small clutch size may limit its ability to 
effectively counteract mortality. Other potential threats to Louisiana 
pinesnakes include SFD, erosion control blankets, insect and invasive 
vegetation effects on habitat, and malicious killing by humans. 
Overall, the threats under Factor E may act together and in combination 
with threats listed above under Factors A through D and increase their 

Proposed Determination

    We have carefully assessed the best scientific and commercial 
information available regarding the past, present, and future threats 
to the Louisiana pinesnake. Threats to the six known remaining 
Louisiana pinesnake populations exist primarily from: (1) Historical 
and continuing habitat loss and fragmentation (Factor A) primarily 
through land-use changes or degradation caused by fire suppression; and 
(2) synergistic effects from mortality caused by vehicle strikes and by 
predators acting on vulnerable, reduced populations (Factor E and 
Factor C).
    Portions of habitat occupied by two Louisiana pinesnake populations 
on private land are currently being managed beneficially for the 
species (some through formal agreements with the Service), and 
conservation efforts on Federal lands, such as KNF and ANF, and U.S. 
Army lands at Fort Polk and Peason Ridge through a CCA in existence 
since 2003, have been extensive and successful in restoring suitable 
Louisiana pinesnake habitat. However, the lack of a definitive positive 
response by the species' populations indicates that habitat restoration 
may take much longer than expected to increase snake abundance, 
especially when they are subjected to negative effects associated with 
small populations of animals (i.e., reduced heterozygosity, inbreeding 
depression) and mortality pressure from vehicles and predators.
    A captive-breeding population of Louisiana pinesnakes is also being 
maintained across 18 AZA accredited institutions and 2 non-AZA partner 
institutions. This captive population, established in 1984, has been 
managed under an AZA Species Survival Plan (SSP) since 2000. As of 
March 2016, this captive-breeding population consists of 111 
individuals (51 males, 53 females, and 7 unsexed). Since 2010, this 
population has provided 77 captive-bred Louisiana pinesnakes for 
release into the wild at the Catahoula Ranger District of the KNF. This 
reintroduction feasibility effort has shown that at least one of the 77 
captive-bred Louisiana pinesnakes has survived for at least 4 years 
after release in optimal habitat.
    The Act defines an endangered species as any species that is ``in 
danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its 
range'' and a threatened species as any species ``that is likely to 
become endangered throughout all or a significant portion of its range 
within the foreseeable future.'' We find that the Louisiana pinesnake 
meets the definition of a threatened species based on the severity and 
immediacy of threats currently impacting all populations of the species 
throughout all of its range. The species' overall range has been 
significantly reduced, populations have apparently been extirpated, and 
the remaining habitat (on private lands) and populations are threatened 
by factors acting in combination to reduce the overall viability of the 
    We find that the Louisiana pinesnake does not meet the definition 
of an endangered species due to the existence of multiple populations 
within the species' range; the extensive habitat restoration and 
management efforts to benefit the species ongoing within occupied areas 
currently being managed by the USFS and U.S. Army, as well as similar 
efforts ongoing (albeit generally smaller and to a lesser extent) 
within occupied areas currently being managed on private lands; and 
reintroduction of captive-bred animals into the wild, which has shown 
some limited success (see Catahoula Reintroduction Feasibility EOHA, p. 
    Since completion of the CCA in 2003, beneficial forest management 
activities conducted by USFS and the U.S. Army have been formally 
dedicated to conservation of the Louisiana pinesnake. Extensive habitat 
restoration efforts have occurred on USFS and U.S. Army lands where the 
species occurs, and those populations are no longer threatened by 
continuing habitat loss. The resulting increases in snake abundance may 
not be reflected in captures by traps currently in operation because 
some newly-created suitable habitat may be in areas farther from 
current trap locations. While it is difficult to show an increase in 
population size with a species that is so difficult to detect, it is 
reasonable to assume that these populations will benefit from improved 
habitat management over time.
    The Louisiana pinesnake captive-breeding population provides some 
capability for population augmentation or re-establishing populations 
in areas with suitable habitat through the SSP. The goals of the SSP 
are to: Maintain an assurance colony for wild Louisiana pinesnake 
populations, preserve or increase genetic heterozygosity into the 
future, preserve representative genetic integrity of wild populations, 
and provide individuals as needed for research and repopulation for the 
conservation of wild populations. While reintroduction as a 
conservation tool is not universally accepted as effective for all 
animals, and the results of current reintroduction pilot efforts remain 
uncertain, the number (77) of captive-bred Louisiana pinesnakes 
released into the wild since 2010 demonstrates that captive-propagation 
efforts are successful, and provides the opportunity for 
reintroduction/augmentation to benefit the conservation of the species.
    The Louisiana pinesnake is likely to become endangered in the 
foreseeable future because the remaining populations are small, 
isolated, subject to ongoing natural and unnatural mortality pressure, 
and to date have not shown a definitive positive response to habitat 
restoration. The species currently has almost no potential for natural 
recolonization between populations, and multiple significantly affected 
populations may be unable to recover even with the restoration of 
appropriate habitat. Half (three) of the known natural extant 
populations (i.e., Kisatchie, Scrappin' Valley, and Angelina EOHAs) 
have had no captures in several years and it is likely that they will 
be considered extirpated in 7 years

[[Page 69473]]

or less based on our population determination criteria, unless 
occurrences are documented in those areas before then.
    Future conservation of the two extant populations on private lands, 
which can change ownership and management practice, is uncertain. 
Portions of the occupied habitat on these private lands are being 
managed beneficially for Louisiana pinesnake, but there is no permanent 
commitment from the current landowners to continue such efforts; the 
other portions with suitable or preferable soils are generally 
unsuitable habitat because of the current vegetation structure. The 
Scrappin' Valley population is at risk of being considered extirpated, 
as discussed immediately above. The Bienville population is one of the 
two largest populations; should the ownership of those lands change or 
the commitment to current habitat management efforts on lands 
supporting the population cease, it is likely that this large 
population would decline and could become extirpated within the 
foreseeable future.

Significant Portion of the Range

    Under the Act and our implementing regulations, a species may 
warrant listing if it is endangered or threatened throughout all or a 
significant portion of its range. Because we have determined that the 
Louisiana pinesnake is threatened throughout all of its range, no 
portion of its range can be ``significant'' for purposes of the 
definitions of ``endangered species'' and ``threatened species.'' See 
the Final Policy on Interpretation of the Phrase ``Significant Portion 
of Its Range'' in the Endangered Species Act's Definitions of 
``Endangered Species'' and ``Threatened Species'' (79 FR 37578; July 1, 


    Therefore, on the basis of the best available scientific and 
commercial information, we propose to list the Louisiana pinesnake as 
threatened in accordance with sections 3(20) and 4(a)(1) of the Act. 
The six known extant populations are all relatively small, and all are 
subject to one or more of the continuing threats discussed above, 
making them all vulnerable to extirpation. We find that an endangered 
species status is not appropriate for the Louisiana pinesnake because 
while we find the threats to the species to be significant, ongoing, 
and occurring mostly range-wide, multiple populations continue to occur 
within the species' range, and all of the populations' occupied habitat 
or portions of it (including two of the largest populations) are 
currently being managed to provide more suitable habitat for the 
species. The two largest populations also have had relatively 
consistent numbers of detections of individuals in the last 12 years. 
Captive-propagation efforts have been demonstrated to be successful, 
and while still unproven at this point, reintroduction pilot efforts 
provide the opportunity for efforts to re-establish new populations or 
augment existing populations to benefit the conservation of the 

Critical Habitat

    Section 3(5)(A) of the Act defines critical habitat as: (i) The 
specific areas within the geographical area occupied by the species, at 
the time it is listed on which are found those physical or biological 
features (I) essential to the conservation of the species and (II) 
which may require special management considerations or protection; and 
(ii) specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by the 
species at the time it is listed upon a determination by the Secretary 
that such areas are essential for the conservation of the species.
    Section 4(a)(3) of the Act and implementing regulations (50 CFR 
424.12) require that we designate critical habitat at the time a 
species is determined to be an endangered or threatened species, to the 
maximum extent prudent and determinable. Our regulations (50 CFR 
424.12(a)(1)) state that designation of critical habitat is not prudent 
when one or both of the following situations exist: (1) The species is 
threatened by taking or other activity and the identification of 
critical habitat can be expected to increase the degree of threat to 
the species; or (2) such designation of critical habitat would not be 
beneficial to the species. As discussed above (see Factor B 
discussion), there is currently no imminent threat of take attributed 
to collection or vandalism for this species, and identification and 
mapping of critical habitat is not expected to initiate any such 
threat. In the absence of finding that the designation of critical 
habitat would increase threats to a species, if there are any benefits 
to a critical habitat designation, a finding that designation is 
prudent is warranted. Here, the potential benefits of designation 
include: (1) Triggering consultation under section 7 of the Act, in new 
areas for action in which there may be a Federal nexus where it would 
not otherwise occur because, for example, it is unoccupied; (2) 
focusing conservation activities on the most essential features and 
areas; (3) providing educational benefits to State or county 
governments or private entities; and (4) preventing inadvertent harm to 
the species. Accordingly, because we have determined that the 
designation of critical habitat will not likely increase the degree of 
threat to the species and may provide some measure of benefit, we 
determine that designation of critical habitat is prudent for the 
Louisiana pinesnake.
    Having determined that designation is prudent, under section 
4(a)(3) of the Act we must find whether critical habitat for the 
species is determinable. Our regulations at 50 CFR 424.12(a)(2) state 
that critical habitat is not determinable when one or both of the 
following situations exist: (i) Information sufficient to perform 
required analyses of the impacts of the designation is lacking, or (ii) 
the biological needs of the species are not sufficiently well known to 
permit identification of an area as critical habitat.
    As discussed above, we have reviewed the available information 
pertaining to the biological needs of the species and habitat 
characteristics where this species is located. On the basis of a review 
of available information, we find that critical habitat for Louisiana 
pinesnake is not determinable because the specific information 
sufficient to perform the required analysis of the impacts of the 
designation is currently lacking, such as information on areas to be 
proposed for designation and the potential economic impacts associated 
with designation of these areas. We are in the process of obtaining 
this information. We will make a determination on critical habitat no 
later than 1 year following any final listing determination.

Available Conservation Measures

    Conservation measures provided to species listed as endangered or 
threatened species under the Act include recognition, recovery actions, 
requirements for Federal protection, and prohibitions against certain 
practices. Recognition through listing results in public awareness, and 
conservation by Federal, State, Tribal, and local agencies; private 
organizations; and individuals. The Act encourages cooperation with the 
States and other countries and calls for recovery actions to be carried 
out for listed species. The protection required by Federal agencies and 
the prohibitions against certain activities are discussed, in part, 
    The primary purpose of the Act is the conservation of endangered 
and threatened species and the ecosystems upon which they depend. The 
ultimate goal of such conservation efforts is the recovery of these 
listed species, so that they no longer need the protective

[[Page 69474]]

measures of the Act. Subsection 4(f) of the Act calls for the Service 
to develop and implement recovery plans for the conservation of 
endangered and threatened species. The recovery planning process 
involves the identification of actions that are necessary to halt or 
reverse the species' decline by addressing the threats to its survival 
and recovery. The goal of this process is to restore listed species to 
a point where they are secure, self-sustaining, and functioning 
components of their ecosystems.
    Recovery planning includes the development of a recovery outline 
shortly after a species is listed and preparation of a draft and final 
recovery plan. The recovery outline guides the immediate implementation 
of urgent recovery actions and describes the process to be used to 
develop a recovery plan. Revisions of the plan may be done to address 
continuing or new threats to the species, as new substantive 
information becomes available. The recovery plan also identifies 
recovery criteria for review of when a species may be ready for 
downlisting or delisting, and methods for monitoring recovery progress. 
Recovery plans also establish a framework for agencies to coordinate 
their recovery efforts and provide estimates of the cost of 
implementing recovery tasks. Recovery teams (composed of species 
experts, Federal and State agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and 
stakeholders) are often established to develop recovery plans. If the 
species is listed, the recovery outline, draft recovery plan, and the 
final recovery plan would be available on our Web site (http://www.fws.gov/endangered), or from our Louisiana Ecological Services 
    Implementation of recovery actions generally requires the 
participation of a broad range of partners, including other Federal 
agencies, States, Tribes, nongovernmental organizations, businesses, 
and private landowners. Examples of recovery actions include habitat 
restoration (e.g., restoration of native vegetation), research, captive 
propagation and reintroduction, and outreach and education. The 
recovery of many listed species cannot be accomplished solely on 
Federal lands because their ranges may occur primarily or solely on 
non-Federal lands. To achieve recovery of these species requires 
cooperative conservation efforts on private, State, and Tribal lands. 
If this species is listed, funding for recovery actions will be 
available from a variety of sources, including Federal budgets, State 
programs, and cost share grants for non-Federal landowners, the 
academic community, and nongovernmental organizations. In addition, 
pursuant to section 6 of the Act, the States of Louisiana and Texas 
would be eligible for Federal funds to implement management actions 
that promote the protection or recovery of the Louisiana pinesnake. 
Information on our grant programs that are available to aid species 
recovery can be found at: http://www.fws.gov/grants.
    Although the Louisiana pinesnake is only proposed for listing under 
the Act at this time, please let us know if you are interested in 
participating in conservation efforts for this species. Additionally, 
we invite you to submit any new information on this species whenever it 
becomes available and any information you may have for recovery 
planning purposes (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).
    Section 7(a) of the Act requires Federal agencies to evaluate their 
actions with respect to any species that is proposed or listed as an 
endangered or threatened species and with respect to its critical 
habitat, if any is designated. Regulations implementing this 
interagency cooperation provision of the Act are codified at 50 CFR 
part 402. Section 7(a)(4) of the Act requires Federal agencies to 
confer with the Service on any action that is likely to jeopardize the 
continued existence of a species proposed for listing or result in 
destruction or adverse modification of proposed critical habitat. If a 
species is listed subsequently, section 7(a)(2) of the Act requires 
Federal agencies to ensure that activities they authorize, fund, or 
carry out are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the 
species or destroy or adversely modify its critical habitat. If a 
Federal action may affect a listed species or its critical habitat, the 
responsible Federal agency must enter into consultation with the 
    Federal agency actions within the species' habitat that may require 
conference or consultation or both as described in the preceding 
paragraph include management and any other landscape-altering 
activities on Federal lands administered by the U.S. Forest Service and 
the Department of Defense.
    The Act and its implementing regulations set forth a series of 
general prohibitions and exceptions that apply to threatened wildlife. 
The prohibitions of section 9(a)(1) of the Act, codified at 50 CFR 
17.31, make it illegal for any person subject to the jurisdiction of 
the United States to take (which includes harass, harm, pursue, hunt, 
shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect; or to attempt any of 
these) threatened wildlife within the United States or on the high 
seas. In addition, it is unlawful to import; export; deliver, receive, 
carry, transport, or ship in interstate or foreign commerce in the 
course of commercial activity; or sell or offer for sale in interstate 
or foreign commerce any listed species. It is also illegal to possess, 
sell, deliver, carry, transport, or ship any such wildlife that has 
been taken illegally. Certain exceptions apply to employees of the 
Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, other Federal land 
management agencies, and State conservation agencies.
    We may issue permits to carry out otherwise prohibited activities 
involving threatened wildlife under certain circumstances. Regulations 
governing permits are codified at 50 CFR 17.32. With regard to 
threatened wildlife, a permit may be issued for the following purposes: 
For scientific purposes, to enhance the propagation or survival of the 
species, for economic hardship, for zoological exhibition, and for 
incidental take in connection with otherwise lawful activities. There 
are also certain statutory exemptions from the prohibitions, which are 
found in sections 9 and 10 of the Act.
    It is our policy, as published in the Federal Register on July 1, 
1994 (59 FR 34272), to identify, to the maximum extent practicable at 
the time a species is listed, those activities that would or would not 
constitute a violation of section 9 of the Act. The intent of this 
policy is to increase public awareness of the effect of a proposed 
listing on proposed and ongoing activities within the range of the 
species proposed for listing. Based on the best available information, 
the following activities may potentially result in a violation of 
section 9 of the Act; this list is not comprehensive:
    (1) Unauthorized collecting, handling, possessing, selling, 
delivering, carrying, or transporting of the Louisiana pinesnake, 
including interstate transportation across State lines and import or 
export across international boundaries, except for properly documented 
antique specimens of these taxa at least 100 years old, as defined by 
section 10(h)(1) of the Act.
    (2) Introduction of nonnative animal species that compete with or 
prey upon the Louisiana pinesnake.
    (3) Introduction of invasive plant species that contribute to the 
degradation of the natural habitat of the Louisiana pinesnake.
    (4) Unauthorized destruction or modification of suitable occupied 
Louisiana pinesnake habitat that results in long-term damage to or 
alteration of

[[Page 69475]]

desirable herbaceous vegetation or the destruction of Baird's pocket 
gopher burrow systems used as refugia by the Louisiana pinesnake, or 
that impairs in other ways the species' essential behaviors such as 
breeding, feeding, or sheltering.
    (5) Unauthorized use of insecticides and rodenticides that could 
impact small mammal prey populations, through either unintended or 
direct impacts within habitat occupied by Louisiana pinesnakes.
    (6) Unauthorized actions that would result in the destruction of 
eggs or cause mortality or injury to hatchling, juvenile, or adult 
Louisiana pinesnakes.
    Questions regarding whether specific activities would constitute a 
violation of section 9 of the Act should be directed to the Louisiana 
Ecological Services Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).

Required Determinations

Clarity of the Rule

    We are required by Executive Orders 12866 and 12988 and by the 
Presidential Memorandum of June 1, 1998, to write all rules in plain 
language. This means that each rule we publish must:
    (1) Be logically organized;
    (2) Use the active voice to address readers directly;
    (3) Use clear language rather than jargon;
    (4) Be divided into short sections and sentences; and
    (5) Use lists and tables wherever possible.
    If you feel that we have not met these requirements, send us 
comments by one of the methods listed in ADDRESSES. To better help us 
revise the rule, your comments should be as specific as possible. For 
example, you should tell us the numbers of the sections or paragraphs 
that are unclearly written, which sections or sentences are too long, 
the sections where you feel lists or tables would be useful, etc.

National Environmental Policy Act (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.)

    We have determined that environmental assessments and environmental 
impact statements, as defined under the authority of the National 
Environmental Policy Act, need not be prepared in connection with 
listing a species as an endangered or threatened species under the 
Endangered Species Act. We published a notice outlining our reasons for 
this determination in the Federal Register on October 25, 1983 (48 FR 

References Cited

    A complete list of references cited in this rulemaking is available 
on the Internet at http://www.regulations.gov and upon request from the 
Louisiana Ecological Services Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION 


    The primary authors of this proposed rule are the staff members of 
the Louisiana Ecological Services Office.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17

    Endangered and threatened species, Exports, Imports, Reporting and 
recordkeeping requirements, Transportation.

Proposed Regulation Promulgation

    Accordingly, we propose to amend part 17, subchapter B of chapter 
I, title 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations, as set forth below:


1. The authority citation for part 17 continues to read as follows:

    Authority:  16 U.S.C. 1361-1407; 1531-1544; and 4201-4245, 
unless otherwise noted.

2. Amend Sec.  17.11 paragraph (h) by adding an entry for ``Pinesnake, 
Louisiana'' to the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife in 
alphabetical order under REPTILES to read as follows:

Sec.  17.11  Endangered and threatened wildlife.

* * * * *
    (h) * * *

                                                                                              Listing citations
           Common name                Scientific name        Where listed         Status        and applicable
                                                  * * * * * * *
                                                  * * * * * * *
Pinesnake, Louisiana.............  Pituophis ruthveni..  Wherever found......  T             [Federal Register
                                                                                              citation of the
                                                                                              final rule]
                                                  * * * * * * *

    Dated: September 26, 2016.
Stephen Guertin,
Acting Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 2016-24113 Filed 10-5-16; 8:45 am]