SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a proposal to protect northwestern and southwestern pond turtles in California, Oregon, and Washington under the Endangered Species Act.
Both species are threatened by worsening drought conditions, habitat loss and fragmentation, and predation by invasive species of bullfrogs.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services' Species Status Assessment found that although the two species of pond turtles are likely to sustain their respective populations in the wild in the near term, both are at an increasing risk of extinction due to population loss, decreased genetic diversity, and a reduced ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions in the next half-century.
“Food, water and shelter for northwestern pond turtles and southwestern pond turtles are becoming scarce across the western United States,” said Paul Souza, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Southwest Region. “We are working alongside federal and state agencies and private landowners to implement conservation actions for northwestern and southwestern pond turtles, and we need everyone’s support to help them thrive in the wild.”
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal, the two species will receive protection under a 4(d) rule which allows for proactive conservation efforts, including wildfire suppression and management, maintenance of existing livestock ponds, habitat restoration, and non-native species removal.
The proposal came as a response to a petition and lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Endangered Species Act protections are a much-needed lifeline for our dwindling native West Coast turtles,” said Jeff Miller, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Pond turtles are crucial to healthy rivers and wetlands, and losing them would impoverish aquatic ecosystems.”
The northwestern pond turtle can be found in Washington, Oregon, Nevada, as well as Northern and Central California and the southwestern pond turtle inhabits parts of California, from Monterey County to San Diego County with parts of its range also in Baja California, Mexico.
The Center for Biological Diversity details that the 'pond turtle' name itself is a bit of a misnomer as both species frequently thrive in rivers. Both species can be found in permanent and intermittent waters of rivers, creeks, small lakes and ponds, marshes, irrigation ditches and reservoirs.
Both species also require terrestrial habitats for nesting and overwintering, a form of hibernation, relay the Center for Biological Diversity.
At the state level, pond turtles are listed as endangered in Washington, sensitive/critical in Oregon, and a species of special concern in California.
Despite those existing designations, the Center for Biological Diversity detail that a respiratory disease epidemic in 1990 left a population of fewer than 100 pond turtles in Washington; pond turtle populations appear to have declined by 99% in Willamette Valley, Oregon; and in California's Central Valley, where a majority of their original habitat has been eliminated, surveys show pond turtles detected at 15 of 55 sites with sizable populations at only five locations; additionally, there are few stable, reproducing populations known between Los Angeles and the border with Mexico.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will seek public comment on the proposal from all interested parties after the proposal is published in the Federal Register on Oct. 3, 2023, opening a 60-day public comment period.
More information about submitting comments before the Dec. 4, 2023 deadline for consideration can be found here and by searching docket number FWS-R8-ES-2023-0092.