Charles Painter works in cooperation with Envirological Services on the Desert Massassagua project.
The Massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus) is considered by most to be declining throughout its total range and is listed as state threatened or endangered over much of its remaining distribution in the United States. Factors contributing to the current status are associated with habitat fragmentation and loss, including by urbanization, agriculture, and extensive livestock grazing. This species is made up of three subspecies; the Eastern Massasauga, S. catenatus catenatus, the Western Massasauga, Sistrurus catenatus tergeminus, and the Desert Massasauga, Sistrurus catenatus edwardsii. The Eastern Massasauga has received the most attention from biologists as it was considered for listing by the USFWS in October 1999, and in 2005 was listed as a Candidate Species for federal listing.
The Desert Massasauga occurs in SE Colorado, SE Arizona, and much of southern and central New Mexico, and is listed as a Sensitive Species by the US Forest Service and a Species of Greatest Conservation Need by New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. Sensitive species may require special attention as an understanding of their biology and ecology is critical for their management. Desert Massasauga has been studied in southeastern Colorado and in southeastern Arizona but such studies are lacking in New Mexico and the status of Desert Massasauga throughout most of its current range is unknown. Based on human population growth and the associated habitat degradation, it is likely that most populations are in sharp decline, some rapidly, others more slowly. Extensive field work is required throughout the center of the range to help with this understanding. This current study, conducted during 2009 and 2010 represents an attempt to understand the habitat requirements of the species in an undisturbed grassland habitat in central New Mexico.