The Center for Biological Diversity has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over its delay in deciding whether to extend Endangered Species Act protections to the rare wood turtle, found in the Midwest and Northeast.
The Center first petitioned for this turtle — along with more than 50 other amphibians and reptiles — in July 2012 arguing that habitat loss and other factors are threatening them with extinction.
“Wood turtles are dying out mostly because people are degrading the waterways where they live,” Center biologist Collette Adkins said in a statement to the press announcing the suit. Adkins is a lawyer who works to protect amphibians and reptiles. “The streams and rivers used by wood turtles are important for people too, for recreation and as a water supply,” Adkins said. “Endangered Species Act protection for this turtle will help protect these essential areas from further destruction.”
Wood turtles have been hurt by channelization of rivers and streams, careless timber-harvesting practices along waterways, urbanization and other development and agricultural practices including pesticide use. Their remaining populations tend to be isolated the Center argues, greatly reducing the chances of their natural recovery in areas where their numbers have plummeted. Study show traditionally low survival rates among juvenile wood turtles have been made worse by the increased prevalence of turtle predators, such as raccoons and skunks, which thrive in urbanized areas. Wild collection for the pet trade is another threat to the turtle’s survival.
In September the Fish and Wildlife Service issued a “positive finding” on the petition for the turtle and initiated a status review. The Center then submitted additional information on declines of the turtle’s populations. The Service is two and a half years late on making a final determination on whether the turtle should be listed.
Wood turtles are found in Connecticut, Iowa, Maryland, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
The wood turtle is one of 10 species the Center is prioritizing this year for Endangered Species Act protection decisions. Under a 2011 settlement with the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Center can seek expedited decisions on protection for 10 species per year. The other nine priority species for 2016 include the monarch butterfly, California spotted owl, Northern Rockies fisher, alligator snapping turtle, Virgin River spinedace, foothill yellow-legged frog, Canoe Creek pigtoe, Barrens topminnow and beaverpond marstonia. Under the settlement 144 species have gained protection to date and 36 species have been proposed for protection.
Photo of wood turtle courtesy Diane Baedeker Petit, USDA.