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Old 05-29-2007, 06:51 AM   #1
Clay Davenport
Texas restricts harvest of turtles

I'm not sure how much effect this will have, since it only applies to public waters, but it's a step in the right direction.
The biggest problem I have is the statement that "These three species of turtles are in no way threatened in this state." I just don't like the policy that they wait until a species is threatened to protect it from large scale commercial exploitation. Why wait until they're in trouble to do anything about it? We're not talking about small time collection, but the taking of thousands for the food markets of China. Not as a source of basic sustenance, but for expensive exotic cuisine.


The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission banned the commercial collection of turtles in public waters Thursday but agreed to allow dealers to continue taking and selling three species of turtles from private waters.

The move to regulate turtles comes as biologists and environmental groups warn that Texas turtles are increasingly becoming a target for export to China, where their meat is considered a delicacy.

The commission backed off of a complete ban on collecting and selling turtles as dealers complained there was no hard evidence that populations were declining in Texas.

The three species of turtles -- red-eared sliders, soft-shelled turtles and common snapping turtles -- are the most frequently found in Texas. They account for 95 percent of all the turtles that are collected by dealers in Texas, said Matt Wagner, wildlife diversity program director for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

"These three species of turtles are in no way threatened in this state," Wagner said.

30 species

There are roughly 30 species and subspecies of turtles in Texas. Under the new rules, private collectors can still have up to six turtles in their collections, but they cannot sell them.

Commissioners heard a wide range of opinions during 2 1/2 hours of testimony from witnesses who supported and opposed restricting the sale of turtles.

Dealers contended that turtle harvesting was welcomed by Texas ranchers and said banning turtle collecting from stock ponds would hurt fish populations.

But biologists, while saying there was not enough data to document the impact of recent exports to China, said turtle populations had been declining. They warned that it could take decades to recover from a depopulation of a turtle species.

Peter van Dijk, director of tortoise and freshwater turtle biodiversity at the Virginia-based Conservation International, warned that Texas officials must be vigilant. In Vietnam and Bangladesh, turtle populations have been decimated by the Chinese demand.

"The demand is completely nonselective. Any size, any shape will do," van Dijk said. "...What we have seen is a 3- to 5-year boom-and-bust cycle per area. There is a population collapse. The overall trade in those areas stays stable, but it is not sustainable."

Palo Pinto County businessman Bob Popplewell, the largest buyer in the state, urged commissioners to table the issue and come back next year after conducting a comprehensive study.

12,000 turtles

Under questioning from commissioners, Popplewell said he shipped 12,000 turtles out of state last year. Two year ago, he estimated he shipped 30,000.

In an interview with the Star-Telegram last month, Popplewell said 400 people in his turtle cooperative are helping landowners across the state collect turtles that are viewed as a problem.

Several states, including Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Alabama, have recently stopped commercial turtle collecting, increasing pressure on the Texas market.

Wagner defended Texas' approach of dividing public water and private waters into separate categories by saying more than 95 percent of Texas land is privately owned, meaning the state agency needs the cooperation of private landowners to regulate the trade.

Before Thursday's action, only nine species of turtles, five of which are sea turtles, were protected in Texas.

BY THE NUMBERS

26 million Reptiles caught in the wild that were exported from the U.S. between 1998 and 2002.

256,638 Number of adult turtles caught in the wild that were flown out of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport to Asia between 2002 and 2005, according to data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that was obtained by the Fort Worth Zoo.

100,000 Turtle exports reached this level between 1996 and 2000.

90 Percent of the wildlife in Texas that is non-game species.

38 States that prohibit the collection of at least one species of turtle.

34 Number of states that limit the commercial take of turtles.

8 Number of states that completely prohibit sale of native wildlife.

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