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Protecting Bog Turtles in New Jersey
Photo Credit: Rosie Walunas, USFWS
At only four inches long, bog turtles, (Glyptemys [Clemmys] muhlenbergii), are the smallest turtles in North America. Bog turtles were federally listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 1997, primarily due to habitat loss and degradation. Despite these challenges, these tiny turtles are not without hope.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) began a bog turtle status review in 2011 to determine whether populations have increased, remained stable, or continued to decline. Based on this review, the Service and its conservation partners are preparing a five-year plan to reduce the magnitude of threats facing bog turtles and develop conservation actions to help recover the species.
In the meantime, the Service has an invaluable tool to help protect bog turtles: the Endangered Species Act.
The Service’s Office of Law Enforcement in New Jersey works in cooperation with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), the Service’s local Ecological Services Field Office, private landowners, and farmers to protect bog turtles and their habitat.
Turtle collectors covet bog turtles because of their beauty and scarcity. Some may not even know the turtle is federally protected. Regardless, some people will pay to $800 for a bog turtle on the black market. Service Special Agents monitor internet trading sites for potential bog turtle sales and known bog turtle sites for signs of poaching.
Law Enforcement and biologists work with local farmers to enhance bog turtle habitat and protect existing bog turtle nests. The federal Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program provides money to farmers to undertake wildlife habitat improvements on their farms. This program has been utilized by the Service and farmers in New Jersey to enhance and protect bog turtle habitats.
In addition, the Endangered Species Act provides enforcement for protecting turtles and the means to take action against those who harm them.
For example, in 2005, James Durr, Deputy Mayor of North Hanover Township, New Jersey, purchased a farm that contained the largest population of bog turtles in central New Jersey. Though Durr was aware of the bog turtles on his property, shortly after the purchase, he began clear-cutting trees near the streambed along which the bog turtles nested, fed, and hibernated. After several storms, nearly two feet (0.6 meters) of sediment filled the streambed and adjacent habitat as a direct result of the clear-cutting, burying the bog turtles and destroying their food source.
“The turtles were hibernating at the time and with two feet of sediment built up around their hibernaculum, there was no way for them to crawl out,” says U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Dorothy Manera, who investigated the case.
With the help of the NJDEP and the Service’s local biologists, it was determined that Durr had violated the Endangered Species Act. In February 2010, Durr was indicted by a federal grand jury for the offense as well as making false statements to authorities, a felony.
Durr pled guilty to a criminal charge of violating the Endangered Species Act, believed to be the first case of a criminal Endangered Species Act violation for habitat destruction in the Northeast Region.
“The Service can provide enormous benefits for vulnerable wildlife by working cooperatively with state agencies and Service field offices,” says Agent Manera. “Ultimately we want an outcome to reflect what is most beneficial for imperiled species and we hope that is the result of this case.”
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