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Endangered Bog Turtle Plods Through Senate Towards Official Designation as State Reptile

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Riverside Elementary School Students Kyle Grzmala and Hayah Mian, and their teacher Mark Eastburn, joined state Sen. Christopher "Kip" Bateman for the vote on the bog turtle bill. Credits: Courtesy New Jersey Senate
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TRENTON, NJ - The endangered bog turtle is one step closer to being designated New Jersey's official state reptile, following State Senate approval of legislation sponsored by Senator Kip Bateman (R-Somerset, Mercer, Middlesex, Hunterdon) and inspired by students from Princeton.

Riverside Elementary School Students Kyle Grzmala and Hayah Mian, and their teacher Mark Eastburn, joined Bateman for the April 12, 2018 vote on his bill to designate the endangered bog turtle as New Jersey’s Official State Reptile.

“I really have to hand it to the students who worked so hard to shed light on the dangers the bog turtle is facing in New Jersey. We are passing this bill today because of their efforts,” Bateman said. “Encouraging the next generation to get involved in the legislative process and reach out to their elected officials is incredibly important. It’s something that every parent, teacher, and legislator should do. I know that these kids have a bright future ahead of them and I look forward to watching them continue to fight for the causes they believe in.”

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Bateman introduced the bill after a group of students and teachers in Princeton began raising awareness of the plight of the bog turtle in New Jersey. The students built a turtle garden at the school and started a campaign to encourage their local officials to protect the bog turtle by naming the creature the New Jersey State Reptile.

Two students involved in the fight to save the bog turtle joined Senator Bateman to testify in support of his bill on March 26 at the Senate State Government Committee hearing. Their teacher, Mark Eastburn, was also in attendance to testify in favor of the legislation and to see it pass the State Senate.

“Dozens of students at a time have come to my room during recess to write letters and post cards to state legislators and nearly every school in New Jersey, and I am so happy that their efforts were supported by Senator Bateman,” Eastburn said. “Some may question whether New Jersey needs a state reptile, but the truth is that a diverse group of children have advocated for a cause that they cherish, and are seeing for themselves the importance of bipartisan cooperation.”

“I am excited that our students are able to understand how a bill becomes a law with this turtle project,” Community Park School Librarian Bevan Jones, who has also assisted Princeton students with their advocacy for this legislation, added. “Now they know that they can make a difference in the world and that their voices matter.”

The bog turtle, one of the smallest and rarest turtles in North America, is endangered in New Jersey. Previously, the reptile could be found in all but three counties statewide. The US Department of Fish and Wildlife and the NJ DEP have partnered with land owners to preserve bog turtle habitats, recognizing the critical need to protect the turtle from extinction.

Although a majority of US States have a State Reptile, New Jersey has yet to designate one.

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