Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 16, 2016

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

Lawsuit Filed to Get Wood Turtles Endangered Species Act Protection

Declines Driven by Habitat Destruction Across Midwest, Northeast

MINNEAPOLIS The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its 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
Photo courtesy 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 further destruction.”

Wood turtles have been hurt by channelization of rivers and streams, careless timber-harvesting practices along waterways, urbanization and agricultural practices including pesticide use. Their 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 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.

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. Download a photo of the wood turtle for media use.

The wood turtle is one of 10 species the Center is prioritizing this year for Endangered Species Act protection decisions. Under a 2011 settlement agreement with the Service, the Center can seek expedited decisions on protection for 10 species per year. The other nine priority species for 2016 include the monarch butterfly, California spotted owl, Northern Rockies fisher, alligator snapping turtle, Virgin River spinedace, foothill yellow-legged frog, Canoe Creek pigtoe, Barrens topminnow and beaverpond marstonia. Under the settlement 144 species have gained protection to date and 36 species have been proposed for protection.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 990,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Go back