By David Pendered
A new habitat populated by North America’s smallest turtle, the 4 ½ inch long bog turtle, has been discovered in Georgia at the state-owned Brasstown Valley Resort and Spa.
“It does give you some hope that bog turtles are doing better than we know,” Thomas Floyd, of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Non-game Conservation Section, said in a statement.
Bog turtles are listed as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act. Loss of habitat is their most pressing threat, though capture for the pet trade is a considerable threat, as well, according to DNR.
A seller was asking $1,200 for a bog turtle in 2006, according to a thread on turtleforum.com. The discussion had comments indicating the price was reasonable, giving the rising fees for the little creatures:
- “Our Daytona Bog breeders used to ask $500 for hatchlings now demand $750 for the same turtle. Who is paying that kind of green for these guys?”
The discovery at Brasstown Valley arrives as state environmental officials have determined that climate change will eliminate habitat in Georgia for some species by 2050, even as man-made “sprawl zones” create tremendous challenges for other critters and plants.
This prediction is outlined in Georgia’s State Wildlife Action Plan. The plan serves as the 10-year update the state’s 2005 Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy.
Floyd first documented bog turtles as Brasstown Valley in 2014. He responded to a chance sighting by a visitor. Since then, Floyd has caught and tracked nine turtles at the resort in an area that is not open to the public in order to protect the turtles.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service extended protection to bog turles in 1997.
According to an FWS statement, the turtle was expected to become extinct in the foreseeable future.
The protection covered two distinct geographic areas. The northern population of bog turtles range from New York and Massachusetts to Maryland. The southern population rages from southern Virginia to northern Georgia.
Georgia monitors bog turtle populations each summer through a catch-and-release program. The turtles are trapped and a passive integrated transponder is attached to their shell. Then the turtles are released.
The state also collaborates with partners including the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance, a network of gardens, agencies, businesses and organizations that are working to monitor and restore the mountain bogs where the bog turtles make their home. Zoo Atlanta is involved in such efforts.
According to DNR’s website:
- “The bog turtle is currently known from only eleven localities within the wilds of Georgia (Fannin, Rabun, Towns, and Union counties), though more undoubtedly occur within the rugged terrain of the north Georgia mountains (a reported site in Stephens County is of questionable validity). Within half of these sites the bog turtle is known only from the observation of a single individual, and in three of these sites the associated population is apparently extirpated due to habitat succession and site drainage.
- “The Chattahoochee National Forest harbors two known natural populations, but the future viability of one of these populations is uncertain due to low turtle numbers and limited available suitable habitat. Two populations on private lands are currently thought to contain viable populations and are the source of hatchling turtles for the ongoing headstarting and population establishment project within restored mountain bog habitat on federal land.”