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Scientists ask DEC to end terrapin hunting

January 11, 2017
By JUSTIN A. LEVINE - Outdoors Writer (jlevine@adirondackdailyenterprise.com) , Lake Placid News

A coalition of more than 60 scientists is urging the state Department of Environmental Conservation to follow through on its plan to end the hunting and trapping season of diamondback terrapin turtles in New York.

In November, the DEC asked the public to comment on several proposed changes to hunting regulations, including the proposal to end the nine-month-long terrapin turtle season.

"Declines in terrapin populations and increasing pressures from habitat loss, nesting predation and commercial harvest for specialized markets has prompted closure of harvest in all of the states in the terrapin's range with the exception of New York," the DEC said in November. "Concerns for New York terrapin populations have prompted this change to repeal Part 3.1 to close the open season and provide protection to the species from harvest.

Article Photos


The state Department of Environmental Conservation is proposing to eliminate the hunting season for diamondback terrapin turtles in New York. Terrapins live in coastal areas where salt and fresh water mix and can play an integral role in coastal wetland health.
Photo — U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

"Amending part 3.2 to add diamondback terrapin to the list of native turtles with no open season would effectively protect the species in all lifestages from being collected in the wild without a special license to collect and possess."

The DEC accepted comments on the changes until just before Christmas. During the public comment period, the Center for Biological Diversity submitted a letter signed by more than five dozen scientists urging the DEC to follow through on its plan.

"We, the undersigned scientists - with collective expertise in conservation biology, ecology, population dynamics, wildlife management and other areas relevant to turtle conservation - urge the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to follow through with its informal rulemaking proposal and amend its regulations to end the harvest of wild terrapins in state waters," the letter begins.

"Under current New York regulations, holders of a diamondback terrapin license may take unlimited numbers of legal-sized wild terrapins during a nine-month open season. The science shows that this policy is at odds with successful conservation of the species.

"Because diamondback terrapins depend on high adult survivorship, long lives and repeated reproductive opportunities to exist, loss of even a small number of terrapins can result in drastic population declines."

Scientists and professors from around the world signed the letter. Researchers and turtle conservationists from Germany, Bermuda and around the U.S. all added their names to the letter.

The diamondback terrapin turtle is the only turtle species that lives in coastal areas where fresh and salt water mix. According to press release from the Center for Biological Diversity, "terrapins play a key role in coastal ecosystems because they eat salt marsh periwinkle snails, which can become overpopulated and devour marsh grasses that protect shorelines and sustain wildlife. But the animals are struggling against threats from habitat loss, entanglement in fishing gear, vehicle strikes, pollution and over-collection."

Elise Bennett, a staff attorney for the Center, said in an email that permits to take the turtles in New York haven't been issued to a single New York resident since 2014. Using a Freedom of Information Law request, Bennett received names and addresses for all terrapin permit holders from 2013 through this year.

"None of the 2016-2017 terrapin permittees are New York residents, and a New Yorker has not held a terrapin permit since 2014. So these aren't locals going out to catch a few terrapins for personal use. It's more than likely these terrapins are being captured to be sold into the domestic and international pet trade," Bennett said in an email.

"Permittees are allowed to capture unlimited terrapins of a certain size during a nine-month open season, so the potential for this kind of large-scale trade could be devastating.

"It's such a shame to see that terrapins are being removed from their natural surroundings in New York, where people can enjoy seeing them in their natural element, so that a very few individuals can turn a profit. They're fantastically beautiful turtles and hold such an important role in the health of New York's coastal ecosystems. They should stay wild so everyone can enjoy them."

According to records provided by Bennett, New York issued permits to just four people last year. Three of those permit holders listed Iowa as their home address, while the fourth hails from Minnesota.

To learn more about diamondback terrapin turtles in New York, visit www.dec.ny.gov/animals/59652.html.

 
 

 

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