Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, April 9, 2015

Contact: Collette Adkins, (651) 955-3821

Western Pond Turtle Moves Toward Endangered Species Act Protection

Turtle Battling Steep Declines in California, Oregon, Washington

SACRAMENTO, Calif.— In response to a 2012 petition by the Center for Biological Diversity and several renowned scientists and herpetologists, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that Endangered Species Act protection may be warranted for the western pond turtle. The agency will now conduct a one-year status review on the turtle, which faces declines of up to 99 percent in some areas, including Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

Western pond turtle
Western pond turtle photo courtesy California Department of Water Resources. This photo is available for media use.

“The Endangered Species Act is the most powerful tool available to save western pond turtles, so I’m really happy that these amazing reptiles are a step closer to the protection they so desperately need,” said Collette Adkins, a Center biologist and lawyer who works to protect reptiles and amphibians. “Western pond turtles are integral to the wild places where they live. Losing them would impoverish those places and our own connection with the natural world.”

Western pond turtles are declining in abundance rangewide, especially in the northernmost portion and the southern third of the range. The animals are listed as state endangered in Washington, sensitive/critical in Oregon, and a species of special concern in California. Although habitat destruction is one of the biggest threats to the turtle, none of these state laws provides effective habitat protection. 

“Threats like habitat destruction from urbanization and agriculture are driving western pond turtles toward extinction,” said Adkins. “Much-needed federal protection of these turtles would help ensure that rivers and wetlands across the West Coast are protected, both for the turtles and for people.”

Today’s finding responds to a 2012 petition that sought protection for the turtle and 52 other amphibians and reptiles found across the country — the largest ever petition focused on protection of amphibians and reptiles. The Fish and Wildlife Service must next issue a “12-month finding” on the turtle that will propose protection under the Endangered Species Act, reject protection under the Act or add the turtle to the candidate waiting list for protection.

Western pond turtles are found from western Washington south to northwestern Baja California. The name “pond” turtle is something of a misnomer because this species more frequently lives in rivers and spends a lot of time in terrestrial habitats. Western pond turtles are highly opportunistic eaters and will consume almost anything they can catch and overpower.

In June of 2014, the Center for Biological Diversity notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of new research revealing that the western pond turtle is actually at least two species, each of which is therefore more endangered than previously thought. According to that study, all populations north of the San Francisco Bay area and populations from the Central Valley north (including the apparently introduced Nevada population) are now known as Emys marmorata. Turtles in the southern portions of the range — the central coast range south of the San Francisco Bay and the Mojave River — are described as Emys pallida. Turtles from Baja California are tentatively also considered Emys pallida,but these animals may represent another distinct species pending results from additional analysis. 

An upper respiratory disease epidemic in Washington in 1990 left a total population of fewer than 100 western pond turtles in the state. They are essentially extirpated in the lower Puget Sound, and only two populations remain in the Columbia River Gorge. In the Willamette Valley in Oregon, western pond turtles appear to have declined to a level that represents roughly 1 percent of historic levels. In California’s Central Valley, where most of the natural habitat has been eliminated, surveys detected turtles at only 15 of 55 sites, with sizable populations only at five sites. Pond turtles from Southern California are in precipitous decline, with few stable, reproducing populations known between Los Angeles and the Mexican border.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 825,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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