NEW ORLEANS (AP) — An environmental group says it will sue unless the federal government sets a deadline for deciding whether to protect alligator snapping turtles under the Endangered Species Act.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in July that it's studying whether the hard-biting, spike-studded turtle needs classification as endangered or threatened. Surveys have found numbers down as much as 95 percent over much of its historic range from habitat loss and overharvesting.

Center for Biological Diversity attorney Collette Adkins says that without a firm date for a final decision, the process "can take years or even decades."

The group has begun a 60-day settlement period required before filing an Endangered Species Act lawsuit.

Fish and Wildlife spokesman Jeffrey Fleming says the agency has no comment.

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