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For Immediate Release, April 10, 2012

Contact: Collette Adkins Giese, (651) 955-3821

Wild Turtles Move Closer to International Trade Protection

Designation Would End Unsustainable Exploitation of U.S. Turtles in Midwest, South, East

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced that it may propose 17 species of U.S. freshwater turtles for protection at the next meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Thailand in 2013. Today’s announcement that the turtles cleared the first hurdle toward international restrictions responds to a 2011 petition submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity that asked the Service to help end unsustainable international trade in U.S. freshwater turtles. Millions of wild freshwater turtles are caught in the U.S. every year and exported.

“Turtle traders are depleting U.S. turtle populations at a frightening rate. It’s got to stop before we lose these incredible animals from the wild,” said the Center’s Collette Adkins Giese, an attorney and biologist who works to save endangered reptiles and amphibians. “Commercial harvesting only compounds the daily problems native turtles already face from habitat loss, water pollution and road mortality.”

More than 2 million wild-caught, live turtles are exported from the United States each year. Most are used to supply food and medicinal markets in Asia, where turtle consumption rates have soared and where native populations of turtles have already been decimated. Adult turtles are also taken from the wild to breed hatchlings for the international pet trade.

Overharvest has caused population declines in almost all turtle species and many are now either protected as endangered under the Endangered Species Act or under consideration for such protection. For example, the beautiful Barbour’s map turtle — now moving toward Endangered Species Act protection due to a Center listing petition — has suffered sharp declines because of overcollection for the pet trade. And the alligator snapping turtle, which can reach 250 pounds and is the largest freshwater turtle in the United States, has been intensively exploited for its meat. The Center petitioned several states in the South and Midwest to ban commercial harvest of snapping turtles and other native turtle species plummeting because of demand and a lack of regulation.

“The United States needs to act now to save our freshwater turtles,” said Adkins Giese. “International protection from exploitation is vital for the survival of wild freshwater turtle populations across the country.”

The list of species released today by the Service contains 17 species of U.S. turtles being considered for CITES Appendix I or II, including the alligator snapping turtle, spotted turtle, Blanding’s turtle, diamondback terrapin and 13 species of map turtles, all of which the Center recommended in its 2011 petition. The Service also announced that four other species proposed by the Center — three species of softshell turtle and the common snapping turtle — will not be proposed for inclusion in the CITES appendices.

When turtles are added to CITES Appendix II, their international trade will be regulated using a permit system, with permits issued only when trade has been determined to be nondetrimental to species survival. CITES Appendix I species are threatened with extinction, so turtles included in this appendix would generally not be permitted in commercial trade. CITES-listed species are also subject to mandatory reporting requirements.

The Service received more than 25,000 comments supporting trade restrictions for the North American turtles. The Service is now opening another public comment period on its species proposals for the sixteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (“CoP16”), which will be held in March 2013 in Thailand. The agency is expected to announce its final species proposals by the end of the year.

Background
The United States is a turtle biodiversity hotspot, home to more types of turtles than any other country in the world. As part a campaign to protect this rich natural heritage, the Center in 2008 and 2009 petitioned states with unrestricted commercial turtle harvest to improve harvest regulations. Florida responded by banning almost all commercial harvest of freshwater turtles from public and private waters, and earlier this year Georgia approved its first-ever state rules regulating the commercial collection of wild freshwater turtles. Alabama banned the commercial harvest of its turtles in regulations that became effective earlier this week. The Center has also petitioned to list several species of imperiled freshwater turtles under the Endangered Species Act. 

Mounting scientific evidence shows that amphibians and reptiles (together called “herpetofauna”) are among the most imperiled species on Earth. Ubiquitous toxins, global warming, nonnative predators, overcollection, habitat destruction and disease are key factors leading to demise of amphibians and reptiles in the United States and worldwide. For more information about the Center’s campaign to stop the amphibian and reptile extinction crisis, visit http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/amphibian_conservation/index.html.

To see a range of states for each of the 17 species in today’s announcement, go here.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 350,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.


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