Another entry to the endangered list. Now the Pearl River Turtle which lives in Louisiana and Mississippi. This one joins other recently moved up to this status.
Federal wildlife managers are proposing endangered species protections for a rare freshwater turtle found only in Louisiana and Mississippi. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced on Monday that the Pearl River map turtle should be listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, a landmark environmental law credited with saving the bald eagle, American alligator and Louisiana’s state bird, the brown pelican. The proposal follows more than a decade of pressure from environmental groups. The Center for Biological Diversity and Healthy Gulf sued Fish and Wildlife last year to compel the agency to list the turtles under the act. “Federal protection for the beautiful Pearl River map turtle is long overdue,” said Jason Totoiu, an attorney for the center. “After a decade of inaction by the Fish and Wildlife Service, these turtles have managed to hang on in just a fraction of their historic range.”nola.com
Once again, we are part of the cause of the loss of this turtle. Both from development and taking them for pets. Climate change has not been kind to them either.
Habitat loss, hunting and climate change-triggered flooding, drought and sea level rise have cut the turtle’s population down to an estimated 21,000, according to Fish and Wildlife. “The science that the service has gathered on the Pearl River map turtle indicates it could become endangered in the near future,” said Fish and Wildlife Regional Director Leopoldo Miranda-Castro. Fish and Wildlife does not plan to designate critical habitat for the Pearl River turtle because it could draw hunters to the few areas the species is still found. The agency notes the turtle could receive “ancillary protections” from overlapping critical habitat designations for the Gulf sturgeon, which also lives in the Pearl River and Bogue Chitto River.
The turtle also serves as a weather vane for river health.
According to the center, map turtles serve as indicators of river health. Poor water quality can devastate their populations. The Pearl River map turtle is particularly threatened by a proposal to build a new dam above Jackson, Mississippi, called the One Lake Project, Totoiu said. About 10 miles of the turtle’s habitat are in an area the One Lake project intends to dredge, dam and essentially turn into a 1,500-acre lake. One Lake’s supporters say the project is vital to protecting homes and businesses from flooding. But detractors, including some in St. Tammany Parish, fear the project could harm the lower reaches of the river in St. Tammany and Washington parishes and imperil other threatened species, including the sturgeon and mussels.
The turtles and some of its relatives are both used for target practice and captured to be home pets.
Also called “sawbacks,” the turtles are collected for the pet trade, hunted for food and medicinal markets, and are sometimes a target for gun enthusiasts, according to the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium. Pearl River map turtles can live up to 30 years in the wild and used to be considered the same species as the nearly identical Pascagoula map turtle. The Pearl River map turtle is only found in creeks and rivers within the Pearl River drainage in Mississippi and Louisiana, while the Pascagoula has a relatively small range in its namesake river system in Mississippi. Environmental groups also sued to protect the Pascagoula turtle, but Fish and Wildlife has declined to give them the act’s full protection. Instead, it will prohibit hunting and removal of the Pascagoula and three other map turtles — Alabama, Escambia and Barbour’s — due to their “similarity of appearance” to Pearl River map turtles. These turtles won’t receive the same endangered species protections as the Pearl River turtle, including possible habitat protections and recovery planning provisions.
Comments are invited.
Fish and Wildlife is accepting comments on the proposed protections at regulations.gov. In the site’s search box, enter the Pearl River turtle’s docket number, FWS–R4–ES–2021–0097. Comments must be received by Jan. 24. The proposed protections for Pearl River turtles come less than two weeks after Fish and Wildlife announced plans to add another Louisiana turtle, the alligator snapping turtle, to the endangered list. The alligator snapper has a broader range and a larger population than the Pearl River turtle but it faces similar threats from river degradation, poaching and climate change.
I am glad to see this as we are back in business on the protection of the environment and its inhabitants.