Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, December 22, 2015

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

Litigation Launched to Push Wood Turtles Toward Endangered Species Act Protection

Declines Driven by Habitat Destruction Across Midwest, Northeast

MINNEAPOLIS The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for delay in deciding whether to extend Endangered Species Act protections to the rare wood turtle, found in the Midwest and Northeast. 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 Collette Adkins, a Center biologist and lawyer who works to protect amphibians and reptiles. “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 this beautiful turtle’s survival.

“Wood turtles are amazing animals with an unusual feeding behavior: They stomp their front feet to cause earthworms to surface so they can eat them,” said Adkins. “Wood turtles help make our world a more beautiful and interesting place to live. And with the help of the Endangered Species Act, we can bring them back from the brink.”

In September the Fish and Wildlife Service issued a “positive finding” on the petition for the turtle and initiated a status review. The Center then submitted extensive additional information on declines of the turtle’s populations, demonstrating the urgent need for protections. The Service is two and a half years late on making a final determination on whether the turtle should be listed.

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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