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RALEIGH, N.C. (May 3, 2007) - While millions of people visit the Mountain region of North Carolina every year, very few will ever see a bog turtle.

This wetland resident is both diminutive - less than five inches long - and so uncommon that biologists consider it the rarest freshwater turtle in North America. Even researchers seeking a bog turtle can have a difficult time finding one.

But the bog turtle is known to occur in 22 counties in the western part of the state.

The Wildlife Diversity Program of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has developed collaborative efforts to monitor, manage and protect this priority species and its habitat. The focal point of those efforts is the N.C. Wildlife Action Plan - a conservation effort designed to keep the common, and not so common, animals around for generations to come. Congress mandated each state develop a comprehensive wildlife conservation strategy, with North Carolina as the first approved strategy.

"Habitat conservation is crucial for the survival of bog turtles," said Lori Williams, a Wildlife Diversity biologist with the Wildlife Resources Commission. "Besides draining, ditching and destruction of wetlands, the other biggest challenge with regards to bog habitat is natural succession of wetlands into forests. Woody stems draw in more water than herbaceous plants and can dry up a bog over time. Mature trees also shade out bog habitat, diminishing the turtles' ability to bask, or thermo-regulate.

"The tree removal and other management work we've been conducting at a historical bog turtle site in Henderson County is a good example of how crucial conservation partnerships are with other private and governmental organizations," she said. "We could not protect, manage, and restore bog turtle habitat without them."

The May issue of Wildlife in North Carolina magazine features the second in a series of articles highlighting the Wildlife Action Plan and focuses on the Mountain region. In addition to bog turtles, species as varied as northern flying squirrels and Appalachian elktoe mussels are listed as priority species in the North Carolina mountains.

"The Wildlife Action Plan is unprecedented in scope," said magazine editor Greg Jenkins. "It represents the first time all these conservation initiatives have come together in this way. We wanted to show the highlights, on a regional basis, to give people a sense of what's in their backyard and what's at stake across the state.

To check out this month's Wildlife in North Carolina, or learn more about wildlife diversity and habitat protection, the Wildlife Action Plan or the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, visit www.ncwildlife.org.
 
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