Turtle Once Common Across Eastern United States Has Lost Half Its Historic Range

ATLANTA— The spotted turtle has been named one of the 10 U.S. species most threatened by habitat fragmentation in a new report released today by the Endangered Species Coalition. The report, No Room to Roam: 10 American Species in Need of Connectivity and Corridors,highlights 10 rare or endangered species that lack safe, navigable corridors to connect them to important habitat or other populations. The spotted turtle ranges across eastern United States, but local population extinctions have caused its range to contract and fragment.

“Turtles have survived on our planet for more than 200 million years, but now the spotted turtle and almost half of all turtle species worldwide are in danger of extinction because of human actions,” said Collette Adkins, an attorney the Center for Biological Diversity who works to protect amphibians and reptiles. “We must stop the destruction and isolation of their habitats now before we lose this beautiful little turtle  to extinction.”

The spotted turtle was once common throughout the eastern United States, but today it is on the brink of extinction, with a 50 percent reduction in its population size. This turtle is often on the move, typically visiting multiple wetlands throughout the year to forage, mate, thermoregulate and spend the winter. These can’t be just any wetlands — the spotted turtle needs clear, clean water; a soft substrate; and aquatic or emergent vegetation. The frequent movements and habitat needs make the spotted turtle especially vulnerable to habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and road mortality.

“Highly mobile creatures like the spotted turtle face the constant struggle of navigating around fences, roads and other developments that fragment their habitat,” said Adkins. “We must do everything we can to protect these species and better connect their key habitats.”

The Center petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the spotted turtle under the Endangered Species Act in 2012. In June 2015 the petition received an initial positive finding that the species may qualify for protection. Another Center petition resulted  in protections for the spotted turtle under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in 2013.

Spotted turtles are one of the many species across the county facing extinction due to fragmentation of their habitats. Among other at-risk species named in the report are the California tiger salamander, Karner blue butterfly, lesser prairie chicken, Yellowstone grizzly bear and Mexican gray wolf. Member groups of the Endangered Species Coalition from across the country nominated the species and ecosystems for inclusion in the report; the submissions were then reviewed and judged by a panel of scientists. The report also includes everyday actions that people can take to help promote habitat connectivity, such as urging land-management agencies to protect important wildlife corridors and supporting efforts to add wildlife crossings to roadways.

The Endangered Species Coalition has produced a “Top 10” report annually for the past eight years. No Room to Roam can be downloaded at: www.endangered.org/no-room-to-roam. Previous reports are available on the coalition’s website, www.stopextinction.org.

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