ESA protections proposed for rare pond turtle found in NV
Juvenile western pond turtle. (Photo: USFWS Pacific Southwest Region)
A rare pond turtle living in far western Nevada is now being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act.
On Friday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a proposal to list both species of western pond turtle as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act— the northwestern pond turtle and the southwestern pond turtle.
The medium sized olive colored turtles inhabit rivers, lakes, and ponds in Washington, Oregon, Nevada and throughout much of northern and central California.
In Nevada, the rare turtles’ habitat spreads from Lake Tahoe to the Humboldt State Wildlife Management Area in disjointed populations cut off from continuous habitat, making the state’s populations especially threatened.
Ongoing threats to both species include worsening drought conditions, habitat loss and fragmentation, and predation by invasive species such as non-native bullfrogs. The turtles require a diverse habitat as they need both aquatic and upland habitat throughout their life cycle.
“Food, water and shelter for northwestern pond turtles and southwestern pond turtles are becoming scarce across the western United States,” said Paul Souza, director of the USFWS Pacific Southwest Region. “We are working alongside federal and state agencies and private landowners to implement conservation actions for northwestern and southwestern pond turtles, and we need everyone’s support to help them thrive in the wild.”
Although their maximum lifespan is unknown, it’s believed individual turtles can live up to 55 years in the wild.
Federal wildlife managers are also considering extending specific protections usually provided to endangered species to the threatened turtles.
Those protections would include prohibiting the harassment, harm, hunting, or trapping of the turtles. The added protections would also prohibit significant habitat modification or degradation in their native habitat, meaning any alteration that could kill or injure the turtles by significantly impairing essential behavioral patterns, including breeding, feeding, or sheltering.
An assessment by the USFWS found that although the southwestern pond turtle and northwestern pond turtle are likely to sustain populations in the wild in the near term, both species are at an increased risk of extinction due to population losses, decreased genetic diversity, and a reduced ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions in the next half century.
Ongoing conservation efforts continue to support populations of southwestern pond turtles and northwestern pond turtles in the wild, said the USFWS. Wildlife managers are working with state, military, and private partners to develop a range-wide management strategy to conserve the species and their habitats.
Friday’s announcement also comes as the Department of the Interior celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, which has been credited with saving 99% of listed species from extinction. So far, more than 100 species of plants and animals have been delisted based on recovery or reclassified from endangered to threatened.
The half a century old legislation has been used to protect several of Nevada’s endemic species and their native habitat in recent years, including the Tiehm’s buckwheat, the Dixie Valley toad, the Fish Lake Valley tui chub, and the Mojave poppy bee.
Federal land managers say they are seeking public comment on the proposes listing, which will be published in the Federal Register Tuesday, opening a 60-day public comment period. USFWS will consider comments from all interested parties received by December 4, 2023. The proposal and information on how to submit comments can be found on or after October 3, 2023 at www.regulations.gov by searching under docket number FWS-R8-ES-2023-0092.
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