Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, September 17, 2015

Contact: Mollie Matteson, (802) 318-1487;

Wood Turtles Move Toward Endangered Species Act Protection

Declines Driven by Habitat Destruction Across Midwest, Northeast

RICHMOND,Vt. In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced that the wood turtle may qualify for Endangered Species Act protection. The Center first petitioned for this turtle — along with more than 50 other amphibians and reptiles — in July 2012 because habitat loss and other factors are threatening them with extinction.    

Wood turtle
Wood turtle photo by Diane Baedeker Petit, USDA. This photo is available for media use.

“Wood turtles are dying out mostly because people are degrading the waterways where they live,” said Mollie Matteson, a senior scientist in the Center’s Northeast office. “The streams and rivers used by wood turtles are important for people too, for recreation and as a water supply. Endangered Species Act protection for this turtle will help protect these essential areas from destruction.”

Hurt by channelization of rivers and streams, careless timber-harvesting practices along waterways, urbanization and agricultural practices, including pesticide use, the wood turtles’ remaining populations tend to be isolated, greatly reducing the chances of their natural recovery in areas where their numbers have plummeted. Traditionally low survival rates among juvenile wood turtles have been made worse by the increased prevalence of turtle predators, such as raccoons and skunks, which thrive in urbanized areas. Wild collection for the pet trade is another threat to the turtle’s survival.

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

Nearly 1 in 4 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.

The Center was joined in its petition for 53 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.

Today’s “90-day finding” is the first in a series of required decisions on the petition. At the 90-day finding stage, the Fish and Wildlife Service determines whether the petition presents sufficient information to warrant further consideration, a process that requires few agency resources. Earlier this year the Service issued positive 90-day findings for 20 other amphibians and reptiles. The next step is a full status review of the species by the Service.

View an interactive state-by-state map showing where the petitioned species live and download a photo of the wood turtle for media use. Wood turtles are found in Connecticut, Iowa, Maryland, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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