September 4, 2007

N.Y. Seeks to Limit Turtle, Frog Hunting


ALBANY, N.Y. - State conservation officials have proposed setting a 10-week hunting season for snapping turtles, while establishing both size and bag limits to protect the reptile that was named the state turtle last year.

Likewise, the Department of Environmental Conservation wants to limit frog hunting to 15 weeks annually in New York. You could still take as many as you wanted in the open season, and any size, though it would be illegal to shoot them at night.

The new rules were proposed this summer, following 2005 amendments to Environmental Conservation Law to list all native amphibians and reptiles as small game, including some previously unprotected. Lawmakers sought "to maintain desirable wildlife species in ecological balance" while "providing for public use of the resource."

The comment period closed this week, with final rules expected within 45 days.

"Snapping turtles have historically been harvested for food in the absence of any regulatory measures to limit harvest," the DEC said. "While a few persons may harvest a turtle for their own consumption, several commercial collectors reportedly harvested thousands of turtles using a variety of methods, including taking turtles prior to the females having nested for the year."

The regulations are meant to protect egg-bearing females and immature turtles, "helping to assure self-sustaining populations for the future," the agency said.

The common snapping turtle (chelydra serpentina), an omnivore with beak-like jaws that can wound a human, lives in fresh water but can travel on land, hibernates in winter and often weighs 15 to 25 pounds with a shell 12 to 18 inches long. Records show some living up to 40 years and growing up to 70 pounds.

The open season for catching them would be July 15 to Sept. 30, with a minimum length of 12 inches, a daily bag limit of five turtles and a season limit of 30.

The proposed rules contain no hunting season for other "native turtles." Most are on the state list of threatened or endangered species. The northern diamondback terrapin is covered by another DEC regulation that would be incorporated.

The hunting season for native frogs would be June 15 to Sept. 30. However, taking northern cricket frogs, listed as endangered in New York, and eastern spadefoot toads would be illegal, and taking leopard frogs would be limited to designated regions.

The proposed regulations list no hunting seasons for native snakes, lizards or salamanders.

In the only comment filed, James Gibbs, biology professor at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, said it is "imprudent" to have no bag limit on frogs. "I have personally witnessed two individuals killing hundreds of northern leopard frogs near a pond edge over about three hours at the Three Rivers Wildlife Management Area in Baldwinsville," he wrote.

Gibbs also questioned the wisdom of having any snapping turtle hunting season, while nearby states like Maine have banned it.

"I recognize that there are a great many snapping turtles in New York's environment and that they are in no sense endangered. I have personally trapped and eaten snapping turtles as a kid in eastern Maine and have no philosophical objection to killing and eating snappers," he wrote. "But as a scientist it's clear to me that the technical literature is adamant that sustainable harvest of turtles is likely not feasible."

But noting a small group of dedicated trappers, plus growing demand for live turtles, meat and turtle products especially from Asian markets, he suggested limiting the harvest to smaller males that reproduce less.


On the Net:

Proposed rules: http://www.dec.ny.gov/regulations/36394.html