A message from the US Humane Society opposing NY State Bill A2490-2013: allowing for the capture and killing of snapping turtles.
To voice your opposition contact NYS Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver at 518-455-4100 Speaker@assembly.state.ny.us
The Humane Society of the United States, the largest animal protection organization in the nation, respectfully and strongly* opposes Bill**s** * *A2490/* *S2170** *which add snapping turtles in the list of species that it is legal to trap in New York State. The opposition to this bill is *based on the vulnerability of this, and all chelonians, to commercial and recreational harvest*.
Increasing concern about the status and viability of reptile populations is being expressed in the scientific community as evidence of declines based on habitat loss and alteration increases, and as new threats, such as emerging diseases, are identified. For these reasons, a conservative approach to reptile management, directed toward stemming the erosion of populations from commercial and recreational take — arguably one of the easiest of a range of admittedly difficult protections to secure — is well warranted.
Demographic characteristics render all turtles particularly vulnerable to human impacts (Gibbs and Amato 2000). These animals are both long-lived and slow to reach sexual maturity. The *first decade* or more of a turtle’s life largely is devoted to growth and the development of the shell (Congdon et al. 2008) that is its primary means of protection from predators. *Egg and hatchling mortality is typically high *(Ernst and Lovich 2009), increasing the importance of juveniles and adults to the population. Congdon et al. (1993) conclude that the suite of life-history traits that coevolve with longevity results in populations that are severely limited in their ability to respond to increases in neonate mortality and even less so to increased mortality of juveniles or adults. As it is the larger turtles, particularly the adults, who are most likely to be located and removed from the population when any collection is permitted, a first step toward protecting wild turtle populations is to prohibit any capture from the wild.
Even small reductions in adult female survival rates can lead to long-term population declines or changes in population structure (Brooks et al. 1991; Congdon et al. 1993, 1994). Congdon et al. (1994) concluded in part that an increase in annual mortality of common snapping turtles of 0.1 on adults over 15 years of age would, in the absence of density-dependent compensation, halve the number of adults in less than 20 years. They state that commercial harvests of turtles “will certainly cause substantial population declines.”
If trapping seasons for snapping turtles are permitted in New York State, snapping turtle take will be almost, if not entirely, of sexually mature adults which, as described above, are the most important members of their populations. As noted by Schlaepfer et al. (2005), “governments should consider commercial collection of reptiles and amphibians only after they have gathered the information necessary to determine that such activities will not jeopardize the long-term survival of those species…”. Likewise, though they did not specifically examine trade in turtles for culinary purposes, Reed and Gibbons (2003), consider this impact on populations to be priority for future investigation, as “the trade in turtles for meat is necessarily composed of adult individuals, which are almost all wild-caught…this trade is not of minor concern.” Congdon et al. (2008) reiterate these concerns.
Given the other threats to snapping turtles in New York, including intensive development in many parts of the state and road densities and traffic volumes that contribute to the destruction of adult females during nesting migrations, all take of turtles should be prohibited. There is no science-based justification for continuing to permit the take of snapping turtles, let alone expanding the take through the institution of a trapping season.
Brooks, R.J., G.P. Brown, and D.A. Galbraith. 1991. Effects of a sudden increase in the natural mortality of adults in a population of the common snapping turtle (*Chelydra serpentina*). Canadian Journal of Zoology 69:1314-1320.
Congdon, J.D., A.E. Dunham, and R.C. Van Loben Sels. 1993. Delayed sexual maturity and demographics of Blanding’s turtles (*Emydoidea blandingii*): Implications for conservation and management of long-lived organisms. Conservation Biology *7*:826-833.
Congdon, J.D., A.E. Dunham, and R.C. Van Loben Sels. 1994. Demographics of common snapping turtles (*Chelydra serpentina*): Implications for conservation and management of long-lived organisms. American Zoology 34:397-408.
Congdon J.D., J.L. Greene, and R.J. Brooks. 2008. Reproductive and nesting ecology of female snapping turtles. Pages 123-134 *in* A.C.
Steyermark, M.S. Finkler, and R.J. Brooks, eds. Biology of the snapping turtle (*Chelydra serpentina*). The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.
Ernst C.H., and J.E. Lovich. 2009. Turtles of the United States and Canada.Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.
Gibbs, J.P., and G.D. Amato. 2000. Genetics and demography in turtle conservation. Pages 207-217 *in* M.W. Klemens, editor. Turtle conservation. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, District of Columbia, USA.
Reed, R.N. and J.W. Gibbons. 2003. Conservation status of live U.S. nonmarine turtles in domestic and international trade. Report to U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (18 January 2005; www.tiherp.org/docs/Library/Turtle_trade_report.pdf)