In November 2021, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) determined the alligator snapping turtle’s past, present, and future conditions warrant its listing as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). USFWS conducted a special assessment that was independently peer- and partner-reviewed and showed the alligator snapping turtle’s population is in decline. It is likely to become endangered within the next 50 years.
Commercial and recreational harvest in the 20th century is among the biggest culprits in the turtle’s dwindling population. Although harvesting has decreased since restrictions have been imposed, the population has not increased. According to USFWS, this can be attributed to “the turtle’s relatively low reproductive output, delayed maturity, and long generation times.”
This new listing under the ESA will help ensure all federal actions consider the preservation and welfare of the species in its natural habitat. It also holds the USFWS accountable for developing and implementing recovery plans to help improve the species’ status alongside species experts and governments at all levels. While USFWS acknowledges that designating the turtle’s critical habitat is important, much remains to be studied. USFWS is also concerned that its specification might elicit further harm to the population by those with malicious intent.
USFWS also proposed a 4(d) listing, which would promote conservation by prohibiting unauthorized possession, importing, and exporting—including incidental possession by fishermen, for example. Conservation efforts that include captive rearing and release are currently underway at Tishomingo National Fish Hatchery in Oklahoma and Natchitoches National Fish Hatchery in Louisiana.
EnviroScience’s staff herpetologists Teal Richards-Dimitrie and Rex Everett have extensive experience surveying and assessing rare reptiles, including turtles. Contact EnviroScience at info@EnviroScienceInc.com for more information. If you suspect someone is illegally removing live alligator snapping turtles—or any other species—contact the USFWS hotline at 844.397.8477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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