The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to list the alligator snapping turtle as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The proposal follows a review of the best available science that indicates decades of overharvesting for domestic and international meat consumption, impacts from nest predation, recreational and illegal harvest and collection, and fishing activities are taking a severe toll on the turtle, which can grow up to 249 pounds.
“These magnificent reptiles are sometimes called the dinosaurs of the turtle world because they look very prehistoric,” said Leopoldo Miranda-Castro, the Service’s Regional Director for the South Atlantic-Gulf and Mississippi-Basin regions. “The impacts of overharvesting and other human activities, along with the reality that they take up to 21 years to reproduce combined to put the alligator snapping turtle in peril. The Service will continue to work with all the state agencies to gather the necessary science to conserve and manage this iconic species.”
Ongoing conservation measures the Service is undertaking on behalf of the alligator snapping turtle include captive rearing and release and habitat restoration and improvement. Tishomingo National Fish Hatchery in Oklahoma initiated a captive breeding program in 1999 to produce head-started alligator snapping turtles for reintroduction. The Natchitoches National Fish Hatchery in Louisiana has also begun a head-start program for the same purpose. In addition, the species is listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Wild Fauna and Flora, an international agreement between governments designed to ensure trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.
Alligator snapping turtles get their name from large, powerful jaws and shells that can resemble the rough, ridged skin of an alligator. Adult males can weigh up to 249 pounds; females are much smaller. Known from 14 different states across the Southeast, Midwest and Southwest, the alligator snapping turtle is the largest freshwater turtle in North America.
Earlier this year, the Service proposed listing the Suwannee alligator snapping turtle, a closely related but separate species, as threatened under the ESA. The Suwannee alligator snapping turtle only occurs in the Suwannee River basin of Georgia and Florida.
A thorough scientific review of the status of the alligator snapping turtle was conducted by the Service through a Species Status Assessment (SSA), which reflects input from many partners and has been peer- and partner-reviewed. The SSA conducted for the alligator snapping turtle showed its populations are in decline and expected to continue to decline into the foreseeable future. Factors affecting the future viability of these turtles include legal and illegal harvest, drowning as a result of by-catch from recreational and commercial fishing, hook ingestion, habitat alteration and nest predation. Historically, commercial and recreational take in the 20th century resulted in significant declines to many alligator snapping turtle populations. Commercial harvesting of alligator snapping turtles that depleted populations in Louisiana, Florida, Georgia and Alabama is now prohibited in all states within its range. Recreational harvest continues in Louisiana and Mississippi but is prohibited in all other states where the species occurs.
For threatened species, the Service uses the flexibility provided under section 4(d) of the ESA to tailor take prohibitions for the conservation of the species. This targeted approach helps reduce regulatory burdens by excepting from prohibitions certain activities that do not significantly harm the species, or that are beneficial, while focusing conservation efforts on the threats detrimental to recovery. The SSA can be accessed at https://ecos.fws.gov/ServCat/DowloadFile/206831.
The Service is applying prohibitions consistent with those for endangered species with exceptions from prohibitions associated with captive breeding for conservation, turtle farms with legally acquired brood stock, Tribal employees carrying out certain actions, and state wildlife rehabilitation facilities. In addition, exceptions from incidental take resulting from construction and silviculture practices that implement Best Management Practices (BMPs), pesticide use according to label, and maintenance dredging in maintained channels is included in the proposed 4(d) rule. For additional details on the Service’s proposed 4(d) rule for the alligator snapping turtle, please visit our Frequently Asked Questions.
The Service determined that designation of critical habitat for the alligator snapping turtle may be prudent but is not determinable at this time. In addition to seeking sufficient information to perform the required analyses for proposing critical habitat, the Service is also seeking comment on whether designation of critical habitat would contribute to further declines of the species by providing information on the turtles’ locations, making them vulnerable to take.
The Service will accept comments received or postmarked on or before January 10, 2022. Comments submitted electronically using the Federal eRulemaking Portal http://www.regulations.gov must be received by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on the closing date. In the Search box, enter FWS–R4–ES–2021–0115, which is the docket number for this rulemaking.
The Service has scheduled a virtual public meeting and hearing on December 7, 2021, from 6:00 – 8:30p.m. CT (7:00 – 9:30 p.m. ET) via the Zoom online video platform and via teleconference. This virtual public meeting and hearing is intended to give the public an opportunity to learn more about the proposed listing of the alligator snapping turtle and an opportunity to comment on the proposal. Registration is required and can be done online.
The use of a virtual public hearing is consistent with our regulations at 50 CFR 424.16(c)(3). If you suspect someone is illegally removing live alligator snapping turtles, or any other species, please call the Service’s wildlife trafficking tips line at 1-844-FWS-TIPS (397-8477) or email email@example.com. You might be eligible for a financial reward if your tip helps solve a case. Refuge Law Enforcement has more information on how to report wildlife crime.
VIRTUAL MEETING AND HEARING
Virtual public meeting and hearing: presentation and video
Information on attending the virtual public meeting and hearing
The USFWS has scheduled a virtual public information meeting and virtual public hearing on December 7th, 2021, from 6:00 – 8:30pm Central Time (CT); the meeting portion will be from 6:00-7:30pm CT, followed by the public hearing from 7:30-8:30pm CT. The virtual public meeting and hearing are intended to give the public an opportunity to learn more about the proposed listing of the alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temmickii) as a threatened species on the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.
The USFWS will hold the virtual public meeting and hearing via the Zoom online platform so that participants can attend remotely. During the virtual public meeting, attendees can join by computer or phone to learn about the proposed listing. The virtual public meeting will start with a brief presentation by USFWS staff followed by an opportunity for attendees to ask questions. The virtual public hearing will be the time for attendees to provide their verbal comments on the proposed listing. Commenters may have an allotted time period to provide comments, and the order of commenters will be based on meeting registration. In addition, public comments can be submitted at: http://www.regulations.gov, Docket no FWS–R4–ES–2021–0115.
We recommend that members of the public log into the Zoom meeting platform 5 minutes prior to the beginning of the presentation to ensure that they can connect. If using the phone-only option, participants will be able to listen to the virtual public meeting, but they will not view the presentation. Instructions will be given regarding how participants will be able to provide their comments for the public hearing.
For security purposes, registration is required. To listen and view the meeting via Zoom, listen to the meeting by telephone, or provide verbal public comment during the meeting by Zoom or telephone, you must register.
Interested members of the public not familiar with the Zoom platform should view the Zoom video tutorials (https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/206618765-Zoom-video-tutorials) prior to the public meeting.
If you have technical difficulties registering for the meeting or joining the meeting on December 7th, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Instructions for attending the virtual public meeting and hearing: For participants joining by Zoom web platform or Zoom app
- Please pre-register using the link provided below:
- If you plan on providing a comment during the virtual public hearing, please indicate that when registering
- After registration, participants will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.
- On the day of the meeting, please join using the information contained in your confirmation email.
For Participants Joining by Phone:
- Register for the meeting (see above). On the day of your meeting, call in using one of the toll-free phone numbers listed below. You will be prompted to enter your Meeting ID. Enter your Meeting ID from your confirmation email and press the # key.
- You will then be prompted: “Enter your Participant ID followed by #. Otherwise just press #.” Phone-only participants will not receive an individualized Participant ID, so just press the # key.
- You will be directly joined to the meeting. If the meeting has not started, you will be on hold until the meeting begins.
Call-in Number (for higher quality, dial a number based on your current location):
- US: +1 720 707 2699 or +1 253 215 8782 or +1 346 248 7799 or +1 646 558 8656 or +1 301 715 8592 or +1 312 626 6799
- International numbers available via Zoom
The USFWS is committed to providing access to the virtual public meeting and hearing for all participants. Closed captioning will be available during the public meeting and hearing. Further, a full audio and video recording and transcript of the public meeting will be posted under Virtual Hearing and Meeting section of this page after the meeting. Participants will also have access to live audio during the public meeting via their telephone or computer speakers. An accessible version of the USFWS’s public meeting presentation will also be posted under Virtual Hearing and Meeting section of this page prior to the meeting.
Persons with disabilities requiring reasonable accommodations to participate in the meeting and hearing should contact Brigette Firmin at email@example.com at least 5 business days prior to the date of the meeting and hearing to help ensure availability. The deadline for those requests is 5:00 p.m. EST November 30, 2021. Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Relay Service at 800–877–8339.