Common snapping turtle photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Dakota L.
Thousands From State Rivers Have Been Caught, Sold, Exported Overseas
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo.—(ENEWSPF)–December 1, 2016. The Missouri Department of Conservation today received a letter signed by more than 100 scientists, including the nation’s top turtle-conservation experts, asking for a complete ban on for-profit trapping of the state’s wild turtles. The letter follows an October announcement that the state will consider restricting commercial turtle collection, in response to a petition filed last summer by the Center for Biological Diversity and Great Rivers Environmental Law Center.
“The nation’s top experts on turtle conservation agree that Missouri needs to ban all commercial turtle trapping,” said Collette Adkins, a biologist and senior attorney at the Center. “A small number of for-profit turtle collectors should not be allowed to jeopardize the state’s turtles, which already suffer from threats like habitat loss and water pollution. We’re hopeful that the Missouri Department of Conservation will do the right thing and put an end to the state’s harmful turtle trade.”
Under current law turtle traders can legally collect unlimited numbers of common snapping and softshell turtles to sell domestically or export for Asian food and medicinal markets. According to the Department, 1,100 miles of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers are open year-round for commercial turtle collection. Thousands of Missouri’s turtles have been caught and sold over the past 10 years.
Today’s letter is endorsed by more than 100 scientific experts in population dynamics, wildlife management and other areas relevant to turtle conservation. Research from these scientists and others has repeatedly documented that freshwater turtles cannot sustain any significant level of wild collection without suffering population declines. For example, a landmark 1994 study by Dr. Justin Congdon, professor emeritus at the University of Georgia, found that life history characteristics of turtles, such as delayed sexual maturity, dependence on high adult survival and high natural levels of nest mortality, predispose turtles to rapid declines from exploitation.
“Commercial harvest in states such as Missouri continues to threaten turtles, which are among the most endangered of all large vertebrate groups worldwide,” said Dr. Anders G.J. Rhodin, founder and director of the Chelonian Research Foundation and Chairman Emeritus of the Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission. “It’s time to stop selling this irreplaceable natural heritage abroad and start working towards restoring turtles to ecologically robust levels. Turtle protections benefit not only our natural environment but also Missourians and the tourists who visit and enjoy seeing these charismatic animals in the wild.”
In its October response to the conservation organizations’ petition asking for a commercial turtle trapping ban, the Department’s interim director, Tom Draper, stated that the Department “agrees that unlimited commercial collection of common snapping turtles and softshell turtles should be addressed through the rulemaking process.” The Department points to “recently developed scientific information” about “increasing harvest pressures.” The rulemaking process first requires development of a proposed rule, which would ultimately be submitted to the Missouri Conservation Commission for approval.
As part of a campaign to protect turtles in the United States, the Center for Biological Diversity has been petitioning states that allow unrestricted commercial turtle collection to improve harvest regulations. In 2009 Florida responded by banning almost all commercial collection of freshwater turtles from public and private waters. In 2012 Georgia approved state rules regulating the commercial collection of turtles, and Alabama completely banned commercial collection. And in July Iowa published proposed rules that, if finalized, would impose seasons, daily bag limits and possession limits for common snapping turtles, painted turtles, spiny softshells and smooth softshells.
Also in response to a 2011 Center petition, and with the support of the Missouri Department of Conservation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in May added four turtles — including common snapping turtles, smooth softshell turtles and spiny softshell turtles that are found in Missouri — to a list called “CITES Appendix III.” Trade in Appendix III species requires an export permit and documentation that the animal was caught or acquired in compliance with the law, allowing the United States to monitor trade closely. The animals must also be shipped using methods designed to prevent cruel treatment.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. www.biologicaldiversity.org
Great Rivers Environmental Law Center is a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm in St. Louis that provides free and reduced-fee legal services to those working to protect the environment and public health. www.greatriverslaw.org