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Species eyed for protection
Coastal Georgia is home to four species the Center for Biological Diversity is petitioning to include on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's list of endangered species.

Endangered protection status is being sought for Southern hognose snake, Carolina gopher frog, spotted turtle and Florida pine snake, all species that live in the Coastal Georgia area.

The four are among the 53 amphibian and reptile species the center, a national nonprofit dedicated to protecting imperilled animals and their habitat, is seeking federal protection for under the Endangered Species Act.

"Many of America's frogs, turtles and salamanders are living on the knife edge of extinction," said Collette Adkins-Giese, a center biologist and lawyer devoted to reptiles and amphibians. "Getting these species protected is our best hope of getting them on track to recovery."

Adkins-Giese said amphibians and reptiles are the most imperilled and least protected animals internationally.

"Listing them as endangered will attract much more attention to the issue," she said. "A big part of the petition is getting people to recognize it."

Scientists estimate that about 25 percent of the nation's amphibians and reptiles are at risk of extinction, yet only 58 of the approximately 1,400 U.S. species protected under the Endangered Species Act are amphibians and reptiles, Adkins-Giese said.

She expects the petition to take several years to process, due to a backlog of petitions at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but she is willing to be patient.

John Jensen, a biologist who monitors reptiles and amphibians for the Wildlife Resources Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said he was surprised by the wide net cast by the center with its list.

Some, like the gopher frog, deserve protection because scientists know why the frog's population is declining and can take appropriate action, Jensen said.

Other species, like the alligator snapping turtle, which lives in rivers flowing toward the Gulf of Mexico, are no longer in need of federal protection, Jensen said.

The snapping turtle saw declining populations because of commercial harvesting for meat, which is now illegal on a state level.

The species is already on the road to recovery, Jensen said.

For species like the Southern hognose snake, it is difficult to say how federal protection will help, Jensen said.

The snake has been in decline lately, but Jensen said biologists have not been able pinpoint why. To implement a recovery plan, clearly identified reasons for population decline are necessary, he added.

Adding a federal layer of protection for the entire list will not only help those that are truly endangered, but it will also prevent others from declining.

"All of the animals are important to their ecosystems because if they are there, they serve a purpose," Jensen said.

Federal protection under the Endangered Species Act places more restrictions on private landowners than state protection, he added.

The Center for Biological Diversity is asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect six turtles, seven snakes, two toads, four frogs, 10 lizards and 24 salamanders.

Other Georgia species on the list are the Pigeon Mountain salamander, green salamander and the alligator snapping turtle.

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