Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, December 4, 2018

Contact: Jenny Loda, (510) 844-7100 x 336,

Critical Habitat Proposed for Endangered Arizona Mud Turtle

TUCSON, Ariz.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed critical habitat for the endangered Sonoyta mud turtle. These highly aquatic turtles are found only in Pima County, Ariz. and Sonora, Mexico.

“These turtles have been pushed to the brink as their aquatic habitats were degraded and destroyed, so this is a crucial step,” said Jenny Loda, a Center for Biological Diversity biologist and attorney who focuses on protecting rare amphibians and reptiles. “I’m so happy to see the Fish and Wildlife Service moving forward with protections for these little guys.”

The proposed critical habitat consists of 12.3 acres in the Rio Sonoyta watershed of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Pima County. This area is currently occupied by the only known population of Sonoyta mud turtles in the United States.

With webbed feet and an innate ability to swim, the Sonoyta mud turtle has evolved to be highly aquatic in one of the driest parts of the Sonoran Desert. Diversion of surface water and pumping of groundwater have led to the loss of much of the watery habitat the turtle needs to survive.

The turtle’s habitat loss has been worsened by drought conditions that have persisted for the past 20 years. Long stretches of dry streams have isolated populations of the turtles, limiting opportunities for migration.

Legal action by the Center forced the Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the Sonoyta mud turtle under the Endangered Species Act, which led to today’s habitat proposal.

“With only one population in the U.S., the Sonoyta mud turtle is extremely vulnerable, especially as dry conditions worsen with climate change,” said Loda. “Protection under the Endangered Species Act are our best hope to save them. The Act has a nearly perfect record of preventing plants and animals from going extinct.”

Four populations are also currently known in Mexico, but the loss of the turtle has already been reported from an additional site. At all of these sites, the number of turtles has declined as aquatic habitat has been reduced.

The public has 60 days to comment on today’s proposed critical habitat.

Sonoyta mud turtle

Photo courtesy National Park Service. This image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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