Arizona’s Sonoyta Mud Turtle Proposed for Endangered Species Act Protection After Waiting for 19 Years

Sonoyta mud turtle
Sonoyta mud turtle photo courtesy National Park Service.

Tucson, AZ-(ENEWSPF)- In accordance with a settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity to speed protections for 757 species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed Endangered Species Act protection for the Sonoyta mud turtle, which was first identified as a “candidate” for federal protection in 1997. These highly aquatic turtles are found only in Pima County, Ariz. and Sonora, Mexico.

“These turtles have been pushed to the brink as their aquatic habitats have been degraded and destroyed,” said Jenny Loda, a biologist and attorney with the Center who focuses on protecting rare amphibians and reptiles. “Endangered Species Act protection is our best hope for saving these guys, since the Act has a nearly perfect record of preventing plants and animals from going extinct.”

With webbed feet and an innate ability to swim, the Sonoyta mud turtle has evolved to be highly aquatic in one of the driest parts of the Sonoran Desert. Diversion of surface water and pumping of groundwater have led to the loss of much of this habitat, which the turtle needs to survive. The problem has been exacerbated by drought conditions that have persisted for the past 20 years. Long stretches of dry streams have isolated populations of the turtles, limiting opportunities for migration.

“I’m so happy to see Endangered Species Act protection for these turtles move forward after an almost 20-year wait,” said Loda. “With dry conditions in the desert expected to worsen with climate change, the Act is hands down our best tool for saving these guys.”

In the United States, the Sonoyta mud turtle has been reduced to a single reservoir called Quitobaquito Springs within Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Four populations are currently known in Mexico, but the loss of the turtle has already been reported from an additional site. At all of these sites the number of turtles has declined as aquatic habitat has been reduced.

To date 147 plants and animals have received protection as a result of the Center’s 2011 agreement, and another 40 are proposed for protection. Read more about the Center’s 757 agreement and its campaign to address the amphibian and reptile extinction crisis.

The public has 60 days to comment on today’s proposed listing.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.