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PUBLIC COMMENTS REOPENED: PROPOSED ENDANGERED SPECIES LISTING FOR WESTERN POND TURTLES

| Rose Winn, Cal4wheel Natural Resources Consultant | Access Issues

PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: PROPOSED ENDANGERED SPECIES LISTING FOR WESTERN POND TURTLES

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is reopening the public comment period for a proposal to list the Northwestern Pond Turtle (occurs in Washington, Oregon, Nevada, and northern and central California) and Southwestern Pond Turtle (occurs from Monterey County south to Los Angeles, Riverside and San Diego counties into northern Baja California, Mexico) as “Threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Collectively, Northern and Southern pond turtles are known as Western Pond Turtles (WPT). A map of the WPT’s range of habitat is shown below.

The public comment period is open until May 6, 2024. 

FWS is reopening the public comment period to give all interested parties additional time to provide comments. FWS is also seeking comments on a 4(d) rule that allows activities that support conservation of both species, including wildfire suppression and management, maintenance of existing livestock ponds, habitat restoration, and non-native species removal. The 4(d) rule would allow land managers and others to carry out these activities without the risk of violating the ESA on their properties because they are expected to have beneficial or negligible impacts to pond turtles and their habitat.   

FWS claims that threats to the WPT include drought conditions, habitat loss and fragmentation, and predation by invasive species such as non-native bullfrogs. 

Cal4Wheel previously submitted comments during the original comment period to oppose the listing of WPT as "Threatened" under the ESA. After reviewing the proposal for listing, Cal4Wheel cited evidence of: 

  • Missing data related to historical and current population volume and range of habitat
  • Flawed data within the analysis to justify distinction between the two population segments (northern and southern) versus a single species of pond turtle
  • Increased risk of catastrophic wildfire resulting from restrictions imposed on timber and fuel management
  • Pervasive speculation in place of evidence regarding alleged threats to WPT ability to thrive and propagate as a species
  • Missing data regarding the alleged correlation between human activity generally, and motorized recreation specifically, as sources of detrimental impact on WPTs
  • Negative impacts to other species, OHV recreation, local economies, and balanced public land management that will be created through regulations imposed by listing the WPT as threatened

Review the full comment letter via this link: https://bit.ly/western-pond-turtles

We need OHV enthusiasts, and all outdoor recreation enthusiasts, to submit comments now during the reopened public comment period to voice the concerns shared above, and to comment on the 4(d) rule. The 4(d) rule provides regulatory flexibility for the conservation of threatened species. When a species is listed as “Threatened” rather than “Endangered,” the FWS has the discretion to issue a 4(d) rule that tailors the protections afforded to that species. This rule allows specific regulations that may exempt certain activities from prohibitions or provide other forms of regulatory relief, as long as such measures are consistent with the conservation of the species.

The bottom line is, the 4(d) rule opens the door for the FWS to implement mitigation measures where there are concerns of outdoor or OHV recreation impact on a species, rather than to simply close or restrict recreation access altogether. Mitigation could involve rerouting roads and trails, using permitted access in place of open access, or conducting public education about how to minimize impacts through responsible recreation practices. The 4(d) rule is aimed at balancing the conservation needs of “Threatened” species with public access to public lands for all multiple-uses. By implementing targeted regulations and management measures, the rule seeks to ensure that outdoor recreation and other public land uses can coexist with the conservation of sensitive species and their habitats.

For more information about the proposed listing, and to submit a comment, go to the Federal Register, docket no. FWS-R8-E8-2023-0092

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