TPWD News Release — April 9, 2007
AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission on March 28 authorized seeking public comment on a proposal to change the way nongame wildlife species are regulated. The proposal would create a “white list” of species that could be collected and sold, with all other nongame animals not on the list to be protected from commercial collection and sale.
The proposal is designed to help monitor and regulate the escalating collection and sale of wild turtles, snakes, and other nongame animals (species not covered under hunting and fishing regulations) in Texas. The change would prohibit commercial use of all Texas turtle species, protecting at least 20 types of turtles currently subject to collection and sale.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department staff had recommended keeping the red-eared slider on the proposed white list, which would have made it the only Texas wild turtle subject to continued commercial collection and sale. (The species is generally common and abundant in Texas.) However, commissioners instructed the staff to remove the red-eared slider from the list, effectively protecting it as well. The intent was to publish a more restrictive proposed regulation for public comment, with the understanding that it could be made less restrictive when finally adopted.
The proposed new regulations will be published this month in the Texas Register for public comment. The proposed regulations will be available on the TPWD website Public Comment page the week of April 9. The TPW Commission will consider final adoption of the new rules at its May 24 meeting. If adopted May 24, the new rules would take effect in early summer, 20 days after they are published in the Texas Register.
Wildlife biologists cite 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. Affected species include box turtles, diamondback terrapins and freshwater turtles such as map turtles, softshells, common snapping turtles and others. At least 12 recent scientific research reports indicate that 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.
Since 1999, the department has published a list of 42 wildlife species or subspecies covered under nongame permit regulations. The list includes mostly turtles (20 species), but also includes 10 species of snakes, five frogs and toads, four lizards, two mammals and one salamander. A number of other nongame species not on the list are currently collected and sold in Texas, with no permitting or reporting requirements.
Currently, anyone who possesses more than 25 specimens in the aggregate of any animal on the list must have a nongame (collector’s) permit, which costs $18 for Texas residents and $60 for non-residents. Commercial operators who buy and resell listed animals must have a nongame dealer’s permit, which costs $60 for residents and $240 for non-residents.
Nongame permit holders must maintain a daily log showing the date, location, and number of specimens collected or sold. Nongame dealer's permit holders must maintain a current daily record of all purchases and sales, and they are required to submit an annual report summarizing their activities to TPWD.
To develop the new white list proposal, department biologists met with a variety of user groups, including seven herpetological societies and various nongame dealers, involving approximately 300 participants total representing a wide range of interests. All parties agreed that sustainability of wildlife populations is the goal, and that there is currently a lack of population data.
Under the proposal, 84 species would be on the new white list, with annual permitting and reporting required for anyone possessing more than 25 specimens in the aggregate of listed animals. Instead of the current list regulating collection of 20 types of turtles, the new list would not allow commercial collection and sale of any native turtle species. Commercial collection and sale would also be prohibited for all other nongame species not on the white list. (See the proposed white list below.)
“For any nongame species not on the proposed white list, we’re still proposing to allow people to keep a limited number of nongame animals for personal use—the current proposal is six,” said Matt Wagner, TPWD wildlife diversity program director. “We want kids, for example, to be able to keep a pet turtle or two; we think that sort of thing is important.”
Wagner said a number of species currently being collected and sold, including several turtles, are identified as priority species of concern in the recently completed Texas Wildlife Action Plan. He believes prohibiting collection of these species will help their populations rebound.
“There are lots of other threats out there to these reptiles and amphibians, including habitat loss and fragmentation,” Wagner said. “When you have these types of species with slow reproductive rates, it’s not sustainable to have commercial collection in the wild.”
Wagner said prohibitions on commercial collection will give TPWD an opportunity to survey local populations of priority aquatic species, including turtles, to assess their status in Texas. Many of these species are tied to specific watersheds and river systems.
“We’re never going to have enough resources to do all the surveys we’d like to do,” Wagner said, “but we can focus on priority areas identified in our Wildlife Action Plan. Reporting data from dealers shows us which counties these animals are coming from, which provides another means of targeting monitoring within ecoregions already identified as priorities.”
Comments on the proposed rules may be made via the TPWD website or to Robert Macdonald by email at email@example.com or by regular mail to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, 4200 Smith School Road, Austin, TX 78744. For specific questions concerning the proposed regulations, anyone may contact Matt Wagner by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by regular mail at the address above.
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