In Illinois over the last century and a half, humans have cut down much of the forest; converted most of the prairies to agriculture; channeled, dammed and polluted many of the rivers; and drained almost 90 percent of the states wetlands. Only 11 percent of the original vegetation now remains intact. This drastic alteration of the original habitat has had a major impact on the states wildlife and plants. In 2004, of the states 17 turtle species, four (the alligator snapping turtle, Macrochelys temminckii; the river cooter, Pseudemys concinna; the spotted turtle, Clemmys guttata; and the yellow mud turtle, Kinosternon flavescens) are state endangered and one (Blandings turtle, Emydoidea blandingii) is state threatened. Declines of the latter three can be attributed in part to loss of wetlands. Siltation and channelization of Illinois rivers have seriously affected other species.
Exploitation is another important cause of declining turtle populations. Snapping turtles and softshells are often sought for food in Illinois. While local consumption has not been a serious problem and is regulated by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, a new concern is the growing demand for turtle meat and products in Asia. Food species (sliders, snappers, softshells) and pet trade species (box turtles, spotted turtles) draw high prices in that market. As Asian species disappear, markets shift to the United States to meet the demand. While a special license is needed to collect turtles in Illinois for commercial purposes, their high asking price makes poaching tempting to some people.
The keys to conserving Illinois turtles will be the rigid enforcement of current protective laws and the setting aside and maintenance of ample clean, aquatic and terrestrial habitats. If these guidelines are followed, we can expect turtles to remain in our Illinois forests, prairies, wetlands and waterways for many years to come.