Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, December 1, 2022


Camila Cossío, (832) 933-5404,

Lawsuit Launched to Seek Federal Protections for Two Turtles, Rare Flower

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice of intent today to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to protect the alligator snapping turtle, Pearl River map turtle and bracted twistflower under the Endangered Species Act.

The Service proposed protections for the three species in 2021, but the agency failed to finalize these critical protections within a year as it’s required to do. The alligator snapping turtle is found primarily in the South, including Florida, Texas and Louisiana. The Pearl River map turtle is found in Louisiana and Mississippi. The twistflower is found in Central Texas.

“These federal delays have real and devastating consequences for animals like the alligator snapping turtle that are struggling to survive,” said Camila Cossío, a staff attorney at the Center. “The Fish and Wildlife Service’s listing program is badly broken. The agency needs more funding and less bureaucracy to effectively protect species that are sliding towards extinction.”

The Service has also failed to follow its own workplan for five other species that should have received final listing determinations by the end of September 2022. These five species are the round hickorynut, frecklebelly madtom, whitebark pine, Big Creek crayfish and St. Francis River crayfish.

“I’d be overjoyed if the Fish and Wildlife Service followed its workplan, but time after time, the agency fails to meet its own deadlines for protecting at-risk wildlife,” said Cossío. “Even those deadlines are already longer than what’s allowed by the Endangered Species Act. More urgency is badly needed to protect imperiled species.”

The Service has long struggled to provide timely protection to species. A recent study found that since 1992, species have waited for protection an average of nine years from the time citizens submitted a petition seeking federal listing. Under the Endangered Species Act, the process is supposed to take two years.

Species Backgrounds

The alligator snapping turtle is a prehistoric-looking freshwater turtle known for its spiked shell, strong, beaked jaws and worm-like tongue, which it uses to lure fish. Habitat degradation, historical overharvest and ongoing capture have caused significant population declines in the once-abundant turtle.

The Pearl River map turtle can live up to 30 years in the wild. Since poor water quality can devastate their populations, map turtles serve as indicators of river health. Other threats include the harvest of turtles for sale in food and medicinal markets, and collection for the pet trade.

Bracted twistflower is a rare flower from the mustard family found in Texas. It is imperiled by land development, grazing by unnaturally abundant white-tailed deer and other herbivores, and increased shade from juniper trees due to fire suppression. There are currently only 16 remaining naturally occurring populations of the bracted twistflower, plus one struggling human-introduced population.

The round hickorynut is a 2.5-inch, almost perfectly round mussel with a greenish-olive shell and a yellow band. Mussels improve water quality by filtering small particles from the water. The round hickorynut has lost 78% of its populations and only four of 65 populations are ranked as having high resiliency. It is threatened by water pollution from urbanization, agriculture, oil and gas drilling and pipelines, coal mining and coal-fired power plants, collection, and increasing stream temperatures and storm events.

The frecklebelly madtom is a stout, boldly patterned catfish that reaches 4 inches in length and occurs in medium to large rivers with clean gravels in both the Pearl River and Mobile basins of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. The madtom has declined across its range, but the Service found that it is likely to remain stable everywhere but the upper Coosa River, where pollution related to agriculture and urban sprawl is driving the species toward extinction. The frecklebelly madtom is also threatened by climate change and more severe droughts.

The whitebark pine is a tree species that occurs at high elevations across seven western states, including Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Nevada. Considered a keystone species because its seeds provide food for grizzly bears and a host of other species, the whitebark pine is dying rapidly from white pine blister rust, an introduced disease. It is also severely threatened by climate change, which is fostering extensive outbreaks of mountain pine beetles. These beetles kill the pine and allow competing tree species to take over its high-elevation habitats, which could lead to more severe fires.

The Big Creek crayfish and St. Francis River crayfish are freshwater crustaceans found in the upper St. Francis River watershed, upstream from Wapapello Dam, in southeastern Missouri. They are threatened by the nonnative woodland crayfish, which can both displace native crayfish and interbreed with them. They are also threatened by heavy-metal contamination of its streams caused by mining.

Alligator snapping turtle. Garry Tucker/USFWS. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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