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US alligator snapping turtles could be protected

July 1, 2015

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Federal protection may be needed for three amphibian species and seven reptiles, including the hard-biting, spiky-shelled alligator snapping turtle, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says.

The Fish and Wildlife Service said Tuesday that those species will undergo further study to decide whether they merit classification as endangered or threatened. Among those species the agency says warrant scrutiny are a spotted turtle once found across the Eastern Seaboard from Maine to Florida, and green salamanders, a tree-climbing species that once inhabited 13 Appalachian states.

Also on the list for 12-month study are several species of snakes and lizards and a frog.

“This is an excellent step toward getting these species protection,” said Jaclyn Lopez, director of the Florida office of the Center for Biological Diversity, speaking Wednesday about the federal decision. She said species that end up on the Endangered Species Act’s threatened or endangered list have an excellent chance of survival.

The nonprofit environmental group had asked the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2012 to protect 53 species including the slow, hook-beaked alligator snapping turtles, which can reach 200 pounds and have a fleshy fish lure in their mouths. “They are some prehistoric-looking creatures,” Lopez said.

Species on the the 2012 petition all face pressures that include habitat loss arising from development, farming, damming of rivers and stream impoundment. Tierra Currry, a senior scientist at the center based in Tucson, Arizona, said it is still awaiting a federal decision on about 26 of the other reptile and amphibian species.

A statement from the Fish and Wildlife Service said another five species, including a crawfish species for which the center requested protection on another petition, don’t require such help.

Alligator snapping turtles once were found from Illinois and Indiana to Florida, Texas and Kansas. Recent surveys found that they’ve probably been wiped out in Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee, with numbers down as much as 95 percent over much of their historic range from habitat loss and overharvesting — which until 2004 included taking wild turtles for soup in Louisiana restaurants. Louisiana, the last state to protect the turtles, now forbids any commercial hunting.

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