Illinois Chorus Frog, Pseudacris streckeri illnioensis © Stanley Trauth
In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced that the Blanding’s turtle, spotted turtle and Illinois chorus frog may qualify for Endangered Species Act protection. The Center first petitioned for these species — along with 50 other amphibians and reptiles — in July 2012 because habitat loss and other factors are threatening them with extinction.
“Blanding’s turtles, spotted turtles and Illinois chorus frogs are dying out mostly because people are destroying their wetland homes,” said Collette Adkins, a Center biologist and lawyer who works to protect amphibians and reptiles. “But wetlands are important for people too, because they filter water and regulate flooding. Endangered Species Act protection for these rare turtles and frogs will help protect these essential areas from destruction.”
Because of habitat destruction, toxic pesticides, climate change and other human-driven causes, nearly one in four amphibians and reptiles is at risk of dying out, scientists say. In fact, although they’ve been around for hundreds of millions of years and survived every major extinction period, amphibians and reptiles are now dying off at up to 10,000 times the historic extinction rate due largely to human impacts. This loss is alarming because they play important roles as predators and prey in their ecosystems and are valuable indicators of environmental health.
“Frogs and turtles are integral parts of the wild where they live, whether it’s a remote forest stream or a suburban wetland,” said Adkins. “Losing them will impoverish those places and our own connection with the natural world.”
The Center was joined in its petition for the amphibians and reptiles by several renowned scientists and herpetologists, including E.O. Wilson, Thomas Lovejoy and Michael Lannoo. More than 200 scientists sent a letter asking the Service to review the status of the petitioned animals.
Today’s “90-day finding” is the first in a series of required decisions on the petition and simply required the Fish and Wildlife Service to determine whether the petition presents sufficient information to warrant further consideration, a process that requires few agency resources. The next step is a full status review of the species by the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Illinois Chorus Frogs (Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri): Throughout American history, these inch-and-a-half-long, dark-spotted frogs have been known for their distinctive, high-pitched, bird-like whistles that can be heard from great distances. Often mistaken for toads because of their stout bodies, they have thick forearms used for digging burrows. Tiny frogs that spend most of their time below ground, they were once common along the wide, sandy soiled grasslands and floodplains of the Mississippi and Illinois river basins. But as a result of unbridled housing development that has eliminated lowland habitat, and agricultural practices that now level fields instead of leaving the water-holding troughs the frogs used for breeding, most of their already small populations are in serious decline. They are now listed as threatened in Illinois, but this status does not protect their habitat.
Blanding’s Turtles (Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Wisconsin): This medium-to-large turtle is targeted by the pet trade because of its beautiful yellow chin and throat. It once ranged through much of the Great Lakes region and the northeastern United States, but the only large remaining populations are found in Minnesota and Nebraska. Blanding’s turtles have suffered extensive declines from habitat loss, road mortality and intense predation on eggs and hatchlings.
Spotted Turtles (Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Virginia, Vermont, West Virginia): A small, black turtle with yellow spots on its smooth shell, the spotted turtle is an attractive animal that’s another unfortunate favorite in the pet trade. It ranges from southern Ontario and Maine southward from the Atlantic coastal plain and piedmont to northern Florida and westward through Ontario, New York, Pennsylvania, central Ohio, northern Indiana and Michigan to northeastern Illinois. The turtle has likely suffered a 50 percent overall reduction in population size, with much of this loss irreversible because of habitat loss.
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