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Federal Authorities Seek To Protect Northern Map Turtles In 5 Southern States

NEW ORLEANS (AP) – The US Fish and Wildlife Service announced Monday it is proposing threatened status for the Pearl River Map Turtle, seeking to grant additional federal protections to a species at risk that is not found only in Louisiana and Mississippi.

“These native freshwater map turtles are endangered and need our help,” Regional Director Leopoldo Miranda-Castro said in a press release.

The agency said it will also seek protection for the closely related Pascagoula Map Turtle found only in Mississippi and three other species found in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee because they look like the Pearl River turtle.

Without protecting other species, it would be difficult for enforcement officers to prevent people from catching and selling Pearl River Map Turtles – one of the main threats to the species, according to a published overview one day before its scheduled publication Tuesday in the Federal Register. .

The status of “threatened due to similarity” would make it illegal to remove turtles from the wild, but would not require a recovery plan or other protections that Pearl River turtles would benefit from if they were listed as threatened.

The name of map turtles is derived from the shell markings that resemble contour lines on topographic maps. Map turtles are also called sawbacks because their shell has a central crest that sometimes develops saw-like tips.

Their intricate brands make them popular pets, the agency said.

“An analysis of the online market offerings in Hong Kong revealed that interest in turtles as pets is increasing, that many species offered for sale originate from North America, and that there is a higher interest in rare species, ”says the proposal.

One of the reasons scientists are not designating critical habitat is that disclosing this information would be a giveaway to poachers as to where to hunt turtles, according to the proposal.

“Federal protection of the magnificent Pearl River Map Turtle is long overdue,” said Jason Totoiu, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, who joined Healthy Gulf, another green nonprofit, in the goal of including the two turtles on the endangered species list. “Endangered” means that a species is in danger of extinction throughout all or a large part of its range. “Threatened” means that a species is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future.

“These turtles have managed to cling to only a fraction of their historic range,” Totoiu said. “While it is disappointing that the Service does not offer endangered species protection for both species, I hope we can finally turn a corner and start recovering these lovely turtles and the waterways in which they are found. once prospered. “

There are 13 species of Map Turtles, and the five covered by the agency’s statement are all so similar that until 1992 they were all considered Alabama Map Turtles. In 2010, two months after the complaint was filed, the Pearl River species was separated from the map turtle Pascagoula.

In addition to the threat from collectors, the Pearl River Map Turtle faces major threats from habitat loss and damage, including pollution and climate change, which also threaten the rivers where it lives.

“These turtles barely cling to very degraded waterways. Without federal protection, they might not survive, ”said Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of Healthy Gulf.

In addition to the Pascagoula species, other species protected as similar species are the Alabama Map Turtle, also found in Georgia, Mississippi, and Tennessee; the Barbour Map Turtle living in Alabama, Florida and Georgia; and the map turtle Escambia in Alabama and Florida.

Publication in the Federal Register will begin a 60-day public comment period.


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