News & Events

Greater Protection for Turtles in Maine?

The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) recently petitioned the United States Environmental Protection Agency to provide protection, through the Endangered Species Act, to 53 species of amphibians and reptiles in 45 of the 50 states in the U. S. According to a notice released this summer by the CBD, these species are under threat largely due to “habitat destruction, pollution, invasive species and climate change.” Three of these species, Blanding’s turtle, the spotted turtle and the wood turtle, live in Maine. What does this mean for development in Maine? Your development?

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IF&W) currently protects 33 fish and wildlife species listed as endangered or threatened in the state of Maine under the Maine Endangered Species Act. The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) protects an additional 16 fish and wildlife species in Maine under the U. S. Endangered Species Act. Blanding’s turtle is currently on the Maine Endangered Species List, and the spotted turtle is on the Maine Threatened Species List. The wood turtle is considered a “Species of Special Concern” in Maine. None of these three species is currently on the U. S. listings, but the CBD is proposing that they are added.

The USFWS and IF&W generally maintain maps of listed species locations or critical habitat. The mapping of these species and / or their critical habitat on a property generally elevates the review and consultation process by IF&W and/or USFWS during project permitting. If a threatened or endangered species is using a property as a portion of their habitat, these agencies will likely require avoidance and minimization of activities that could cause harm to these species and their habitats.

However, protection of these species does not always occur. Projects that generally do not require state or federal approval, such as single family residential, small subdivisions, building additions and small road projects, often occur without knowledge of the presence of the species or habitat. The Maine Natural Resources Protection Act requires that a project developer obtain a permit for activities within a Significant Wildlife Habitat, which includes any species listed on the Maine or United States Threatened or Endangered Species list. But many people do not know this and projects often occur without the proper permitting.

In addition, the species maps maintained by IF&W and USFWS may not be comprehensive, thereby limiting the ability to protect these species. Habitat conversion projects, such as bush-hogging to make a field or logging, often do not require a permit but can affect these species and their habitat.

Currently, Blanding’s turtle and the spotted turtle are protected in the state of Maine; the wood turtle is not. The proposed inclusion of these three species of turtles on the federal Threatened and Endangered Species list would serve to add protections to the spotted turtle that are not currently in place and also afford a higher level of protection to all three species. It is possible that more projects occurring in the listed species habitat will be identified and reviewed if these turtles are listed on the federal lists. Projects that may not be subject to state review may be subject to federal review, with the end result of more habitat being protected. The federal government generally has more resources and a greater purview and therefore can provide greater oversight of the species under their listing.

What should you do if a state or federal threatened or endangered species or habitat are mapped on a property on which you are proposing a development? Call your local office of the state IF&W or the federal USFWS for more information, or call one of the S. W. Cole Engineering, Inc. ecological services staff at (207) 848-5714. S. W. Cole Engineering, Inc. provides natural resources identification, delineation and permitting guidance. We can serve as liaison between you and regulatory or resource agencies.