Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, October 16, 2014

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

Endangered Species Act Protection Sought for Rare Midwest Frog and Turtle
Once Found Across Much of Midwest, Northeast, Great Lakes Region

MINNEAPOLIS The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for failing to decide whether the Blanding’s turtle and Illinois chorus frog warrant consideration for Endangered Species Act protection. The Center first petitioned for these species — along with 51 other amphibians and reptiles — in July 2012 because habitat loss and other factors are threatening them with extinction.    

Blanding's turtle
Blanding's turtle photo courtesy Photos are available for media use.

“Blanding’s turtles and Illinois chorus frogs are dying out mostly because people are destroying their wetland homes,” said Collette Adkins Giese, a Center biologist and lawyer focused on protecting amphibians and reptiles. “But wetlands are important for people too, because they filter water and regulate flooding. Endangered Species Act protection for these rare turtles and frogs will help protect these essential areas from destruction.”

Because of habitat destruction, toxic pesticides, climate change and other human-driven causes, nearly one in four amphibians and reptiles is at risk of dying out, scientists say. In fact, although they’ve been around for hundreds of millions of years and survived every major extinction period, amphibians and reptiles are now dying off at up to 10,000 times the historic extinction rate due largely to human impacts. This loss is alarming because they play important roles as predators and prey in their ecosystems and are valuable indicators of environmental health.

“Frogs and turtles are integral parts of the wild where they live, whether it’s a remote forest stream or a suburban wetland,” said Adkins Giese. “Losing them will impoverish those places and our own connection with the natural world.”

The Center was joined in its petition for the Blanding’s turtle and Illinois chorus frog —and dozens of other amphibians and reptiles — by several renowned scientists and herpetologists, including E.O. Wilson, Thomas Lovejoy and Michael Lannoo. More than 200 scientists sent a letter asking the Service to review the status of the petitioned animals.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is required to make an initial finding within 90 days of receiving a petition about whether protections may be warranted. But more than two years later, the agency has not acted. The 90-day finding is the first in a series of legally mandated decisions, requiring the Fish and Wildlife Service simply to determine whether the petition presents sufficient information to warrant further consideration, a process that requires few agency resources.

View an interactive state-by-state map showing where the petitioned species live and download photos for media use.

Species Highlights

Illinois Chorus Frogs (Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri): Throughout American history, these inch-and-a-half-long, dark-spotted frogs have been known for their distinctive, high-pitched, bird-like whistles that can be heard from great distances. Often mistaken for toads because of their stout bodies, they have thick forearms used for digging burrows. Tiny frogs that spend most of their time below ground, they were once common along the wide, sandy soiled grasslands and floodplains of the Mississippi and Illinois river basins. But as a result of unbridled housing development that has eliminated lowland habitat, and agricultural practices that now level fields instead of leaving the water-holding troughs the frogs used for breeding, most of their already small populations are in serious decline. They are now listed as threatened in Illinois, but this status does not protect their habitat.

Blanding’s Turtles (Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Wisconsin): This medium-to-large turtle is targeted by the pet trade because of its beautiful yellow chin and throat. It once ranged through much of the Great Lakes region and the northeastern United States, but the only large remaining populations are found in Minnesota and Nebraska. Blanding’s turtles have suffered extensive declines from habitat loss, road mortality and intense predation on eggs and hatchlings.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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