New Texas Regulations To Protect Wild Turtles, Nongame Wildlife

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AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission on May 24 approved a measure that will prohibit commercial collection of all wild turtles from public waters and public land in the state, but will still allow collection of three varieties of turtles on private property, including ranch stock tanks and farm ponds. The turtle provisions are part of new Texas nongame regulations that create a “white list” of 84 species which can be collected and sold and prohibit the commercial collection of all other nongame animals not on the list.

The new regulations are designed to help monitor and regulate the escalating commercial collection and sale of wild turtles, snakes, and other nongame animals (species not covered under hunting and fishing regulations) in Texas. The change would protect at least 15 species of turtles and more than 200 other nongame wildlife species that are not on the white list.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department staff had proposed new nongame regulations in April that would have prohibited the commercial collection of turtles everywhere in the state. However, public comments during the past few months show that while about 90 percent of those who commented support turtle protection, some landowners expressed concerns about not being able to effectively manage turtles within their property.

“We currently have a huge and growing demand for turtle meat, coupled with unrestricted commercial collection, and we need to move toward sustainability,” said Matt Wagner, PhD, TPWD wildlife diversity program leader, in a briefing to commissioners May 23. “It is a fact that unrestricted take of any species from the wild, including turtles, over the long term leads to population declines. If we need to further restrict activity in the future, based on ongoing monitoring, we can.”

The new regulations will allow commercial collection of three varieties of turtles from private property in Texas, including the red-eared slider, the common snapping turtle and the five varieties of softshell turtles. Commercial collection of all wild turtles will be prohibited on public land and in public waters of the state, such as rivers and public lakes. Also, the revised regulations approved by commissioners include changes from the April proposal to exempt certain species from the rule, such as coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, rabbits and American bison, and to address importation and exportation of nongame species.

The new regulations will take effect later this year, 20 days after they are filed with the Texas Register

Besides new reporting and documentation required under the new white list regulations, Wagner told commissioners the department is contracting with Texas A&M University to begin researching the issue this fall. Starting Sept. 1, the university research team will begin a study of the nongame wildlife trade which will ultimately yield recommendations for long-term monitoring.

Wildlife biologists say the new nongame regulations are needed in part because of increased pressure from out-of-state collectors and dealers, fueled in part by a growing demand for turtle meat sold to China and other Asian markets. In recent years, an average of 94,442 turtles per year were collected or purchased by at least 50 Texas dealers, mostly for export from the state.

Wildlife experts are expressing particular concern about the turtle trade. There is abundant scientific research indicating that unregulated commercial turtle harvest from the wild is not sustainable. At least four southeastern states in the U.S. have prohibited commercial collection of turtles from the wild, and most others are more restrictive than Texas.

A total of 84 species are on the new white list, with annual permitting and rigorous reporting required for anyone possessing more than 25 specimens in the aggregate of listed animals for commercial purposes. (See the white list below.)

“For any nongame species not on the white list, there will be a possession limit of up to six nongame animals at one time for personal use,” said Matt Wagner, TPWD wildlife diversity program director. “We want kids, for example, to be able to keep a pet turtle or two.”

TPWD Nongame White List

Frogs and Toads

  • Great Plains toad (Bufo cognatus)
  • Green toad (Bufo debilis)
  • Red-spotted toad (Bufo punctatus)
  • Texas toad (Bufo speciosus)
  • Gulf Coast toad (Bufo valliceps)
  • Woodhouse’s toad (Bufo woodhousei)
  • Green treefrog (Hyla cinerea)
  • Bull frog (Rana catesbeiana)
  • Couch’s spadefoot (Scaphiopus couchii)
  • Plains spadefoot (Spea bombifrons)
  • New Mexico spadefoot (Spea multiplicata)


  • Tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum)


  • Green anole (Anolis carolinensis)
  • Chihuahuan spotted whiptail (Aspidoscelis exsanguis)
  • Texas spotted whiptail (Aspidoscelis gularis)
  • Marbled whiptail (Aspidoscelis marmoratus)
  • Six-lined racerunner (Aspidoscelis sexlineatus)
  • Checkered whiptail (Aspidoscelis tesselatus)
  • Texas banded gecko (Coleonyx brevis)
  • Greater earless lizard (Cophosaurus texanus)
  • Collared lizard (Crotaphytus collaris)
  • Five-lined skink (Eumeces fasciatus)
  • Great plains skink (Eumeces obsoletus)
  • Texas alligator lizard (Gerrhonotus infernalis)
  • Lesser earless lizard (Holbrookia maculata)
  • Crevice spiny lizard (Sceloporus poinsettii)
  • Prairie lizard (Sceloporus undulatus)
  • Ground skink (Scincella lateralis)
  • Tree lizard (Urosaurus ornatus)
  • Side-blotched lizard (Uta stansburiana)


  • Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix)
  • Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus)
  • Glossy snake (Arizona elegans)
  • Trans-Pecos rat snake (Bogertophis subocularis)
  • Racer (Coluber constrictor)
  • Western diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox)
  • Rock rattlesnake (Crotalus lepidus)
  • Blacktail rattlesnake (Crotalus molossus)
  • Mojave rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus)
  • Prairie rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis)
  • Baird’s rat snake (Elaphe bairdi)
  • Great Plains rat snake (Elaphe emoryi)
  • Texas rat snake (Elaphe obsoleta)
  • Slowinski’s cornsnake (Elaphe slowinskii)
  • Western hognose snake (Heterodon nasicus)
  • Eastern hognose snake (Heterodon platirhinos)
  • Texas night snake (Hypsiglena torquata)
  • Gray-banded kingsnake (Lampropeltis alterna)
  • Prairie kingsnake (Lampropeltis calligaster)
  • Speckled or desert kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula)
  • Milk snake (Lampropeltis triangulum)
  • Texas blind snake (Leptotyphlops dulcis)
  • Coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum)
  • Schott’s whipsnake (Masticophis schotti)
  • Striped whipsnake (Masticophis taeniatus)
  • Texas coral snake (Micrurus tener)
  • Blotched or yellowbelly water snake (Nerodia erythrogaster)
  • Broad-banded water snake (Nerodia fasciata)
  • Diamondback water snake (Nerodia rhombifer)
  • Rough green snake (Opheodrys aestivus)
  • Bullsnake or gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer)
  • Texas longnose snake (Rhinocheilus lecontei)
  • Western blackneck garter snake (Thamnophis cyrtopsis)
  • Checkered garter snake (Thamnophis marcianus)
  • Western ribbon snake (Thamnophis proximus)
  • Big Bend patchnose snake (Salvadora deserticola)
  • Texas or mountain patchnose snake (Salvadora grahamiae)
  • Massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus)
  • Pygmy rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius)
  • Ground snake (Sonora semiannulata)
  • Brown snake (Storeria dekayi)
  • Flathead snake (Tantilla gracilis)
  • Southwestern blackhead snake (Tantilla hobartsmithi)
  • Plains blackhead snake (Tantilla nigriceps)
  • Lined snake (Tropidoclonion lineatum)
  • Rough earth snake (Virginia striatula)


  • Texas Antelope Squirrel (Ammospermophilus interpres)
  • Black-tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys ludovicianus)
  • Merriam's Kangaroo Rat (Dipodomys merriami)
  • Eastern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys volans)
  • Black-tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus californicus)
  • Spotted Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus spilosoma)
  • Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus tridecemlineatus)
  • Rock Squirrel (Spermophilus variegatus)

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