Legislation signed recently by Minnesota governor Tim Walz will prohibit the commercial trapping of wild turtles in the state. The bill means 21 holders of trapping permits will have to halt the practice by the end of this year.
No new permits for commercial turtle trapping have been issued since 2004, hoping to gradually phase out the industry. But almost 20 years later, thanks to a clause that allowed a one-time transfer of permits to family members, the trapping has continued.
In recent years, commercial trappers have reported taking about 10,000 turtles per year. Trappers are currently only allowed to keep painted, softshell, and snapping turtles.
Minnesota has been one of just 13 states that still permitted any commercial turtle trapping. The state and five others were the only ones that allowed unlimited harvest by permitted trappers.
“This is a huge conservation win after a 20-plus year effort,” said Chris Smith, conservation chair of the Minnesota Herpetological Society, told the Star Tribune. “By no means is the work done; there are still lots of turtle conservation needs. But this is a logical step to take.”
Some recreational turtle trapping will still be allowed, with a new $25 license. People will only be able to possess up to three snapping turtles and three western painted turtles, while spiny softshell turtles are not allowed to be taken at all anymore. A new rule-making process is expected to take place and possibly change those limits.
The Department of Natural Resources says turtle populations have been falling across the state. The reasons are varied, including roadkill and other factors. But the life cycles and reproduction strategies of turtles makes them uniquely affected by trapping.
Mother turtles lay a lot of eggs, and only a few survive to maturity. Many eggs are dug up by predators like raccoons and skunks, while any hatchlings that make it to the water have precarious years ahead, fending for themselves from the first day.
They spend their summers avoiding herons, hawks, and otters. Turtles must survive until seven or eight — or older — before they are even ready to reproduce. Then the females crawl onto shore, dig a hole in the sand, and lay their first brood.
But, once they reach this age, turtles are pretty tough for most predators to kill. One that makes it this far often goes on to live long lives, producing many clutches of eggs.
The problem is that turtle trapping often targets these large, mature reptiles. Removing them from their homes means a big reduction in their reproductive ability.