Thursday, October 19, 2006

A Snake Mystery

Virgin Islands tree boaThe Virgin Islands Tree Boa (Epicrates monensis granti) is a beautiful little snake (up to about 1 meter in length) found only on several small Caribbean islands directly east of Puerto Rico. One of its largest remaining populations is located on Saint Thomas, the northwesternmost of the United States Virgin Islands. Already threatened there by the invasive Indian Mongoose (Herpestes auropunctatus), Black Rat (Rattus rattus), and Norwegian Rat (Rattus norvegicus), its last stronghold, in the dry, coastal forest of eastern Saint Thomas, is now the site of a planned major subdivision of luxury vacation homes.

This Tree Boa, one of the United States' only native tropical snakes, would seem an ideal candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act ("ESA"). The snake would seem an ideal candidate for listing under the ESA. And, it is indeed listed as Endangered throughout its range. Based on its Federal listing, one might assume that there is hope for the Tree Boa.

However, what hope there might be for the snake's survival owes nothing to the ESA. In fact, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's website states:
MANAGEMENT AND PROTECTION: There have been no direct conservation efforts to protect the Virgin Islands tree boa in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Why has the Federal government failed to act to protect the Virgin Islands Tree Boa, despite officially listing it as an Endangered Species? I will explore this mystery over the next few weeks because it reveals a lot about the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service, federalism, and the neglected status of the United States' overseas territories.

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