Following a review of the best available science, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to list the Pearl River map turtle as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). With only an estimated 21,000 remaining in the wild, and those individuals threatened with turtle harvesting as well as habitat loss and degradation due to the effects of sea-level rise, flooding, and drought, future projections for the Pearl River map turtle show populations becoming increasingly isolated.
To further protect the Pearl River map turtle, the Service is also proposing to list the Alabama map turtle, Barbour’s map turtle, Escambia map turtle and Pascagoula map turtle as threatened due to their similarity of appearance to the Pearl River map turtle. These five species of map turtles are visually indistinguishable from one another and the difficulty in identifying them poses a challenge for federal and state law enforcement agents trying to stem unauthorized collection of the Pearl River map turtle. This action is allowed under section 4(e) of the ESA. While prohibiting take, listing species similar in appearance under 4(e) of the ESA does not extend all protections of the ESA, such as consultation requirements for federal agencies or recovery planning provisions.
“The science that the Service has gathered on the Pearl River map turtle indicates it could become endangered in the near future,” said Regional Director Leopoldo Miranda-Castro. “These native freshwater map turtles are at risk and need our help. Working with state fish and wildlife agencies and our partners to conserve them is a priority. Adding the other four species of map turtles to this listing proposal, due to their similarity in appearance, will help advance conservation efforts and the eventual recovery of the map turtle.”
The Service has determined that proposing critical habitat for the Pearl River map turtle would not be prudent as collection and harvesting of the turtle remains a significant threat. Since the Pearl River map turtle co-occurs with three other federally listed species – the Gulf sturgeon, ringed map turtle, and inflated heelsplitter mussel – consultations that reduce or mitigate impacts to these species will also provide conservation measures benefitting the Pearl River map turtle. Additionally, designated critical habitat for the Gulf sturgeon, which includes areas of the Pearl River and Bogue Chitto River where the Pearl River map turtle occurs, affords the turtle some ancillary protections.
The Service is also proposing to use the flexibility provided under section 4(d) of the ESA to tailor take prohibitions for the conservation of species. This targeted approach helps reduce regulatory burdens by exempting certain activities that are beneficial to, or do not significantly harm the species while focusing conservation efforts on the threats detrimental to recovery. For more information about these five species of map turtles, please visit our Frequently Asked Questions.
To comment on the proposed rule, go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: https://www.regulations.gov/. In the Search box, enter FWS–R4–ES–2021–0097, which is the docket number for this rulemaking. Comments on the proposed rule must be received by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on January 24, 2022. We must receive requests for public hearings, in writing, at the address shown in FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT by January 7, 2022.