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Turtle and Tortoise Newsletter, 2000, 1:19
© 2000 by Chelonian Research Foundation

Turtle and Tortoise Newsletter

Passage of the Louisiana Law Prohibiting the Commercial Harvest Of Wild Box Turtles

Martha Ann Messinger & George M. Patton
2022 Gemini, Bastrop, LA 71220-3467 Email: gpatton@bayou.com

Act 81 of the 1999 Session of the Louisiana Legislature prohibits the commercial harvest of Louisiana’s box turtle populations. This law, which became effective August 15, 1999, was unanimously passed by both the Louisiana Senate and the House of Representatives. This is an outstanding victory for one of Louisiana’s turtles and will have far reaching impact on box turtles in other states.

Any box turtles native to the state of Louisiana will be considered as originating from Louisiana. Therefore it will no longer be possible to smuggle box turtles out of other states where harvest is also illegal and claim they originated in Louisiana. Recreational possession is limited to four box turtles.

From January, 1995 to June, 1998 approximately 29,896 (LDWF, 1998) box turtles were collected for the pet trade and shipped from Louisiana. This law will help to insure that future generations of Louisiana adults and children will be able to take a walk in the woods and view box turtles in their native habitat.

How the Law Came Into Existence

Many years ago we attended a conservation seminar by the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service. I’ll never forget, one of the officials told us that if we wanted to get conservation work done, “sooner or later, you’ll have to get into politics”.

In May 1995, I volunteered to serve as the Louisiana Wildlife Federation’s representative on the Louisiana Reptile & Amphibian Task Force, which is an advisory group to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries (LDWF). Since there were no bag limits or seasons for the harvest of box turtles, I tried everything possible to get the LDWF to regulate the commercial collection. We even had a special meeting with one of LDWF’s top officials. We drove 200 miles for that meeting and carried three proposals with us, only to be told by the official, “You really don’t have anything to worry about, when the hunters can’t find any more box turtles, they will quit collecting them.”

In 1998, at my suggestion, the Task Force passed a resolution recommending that the LDWF and the citizens of Louisiana do everything possible to preserve the state’s box turtles for future generations. The Task Force also recommended that the LDWF limit the harvest of box turtles to males. The LDWF informed us that they would soon install the “male only harvest” but its installation was postponed several times and finally abandoned.

We worked for over a year preparing a resolution for the 1999 Louisiana Wildlife Federation (LWF) meeting. We designed a poster display and a handout explaining why a sustainable harvest of wild box turtles is impossible. The LWF adopted our resolution which urged the governor, legislature, Department of Wildlife & Fisheries and citizens “to take all measures necessary to insure that the state box turtles will be saved for future generations to enjoy.” The LWF has over 13,000 members, some of which are very concerned about the plight of Louisiana’s box turtles. A resolution from this organization showed we had strong backing. (The LWF is a state affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation.)

Next, we went to the local university’s library where we got copies of Louisiana laws prohibiting the commercial use of certain game animals. We used those laws as patterns to compose a piece of legislation that would prohibit the commercial harvest of Louisiana’s box turtles. Drafting the legislation was not difficult. Some members of the LWF and an official of the LDWF helped us make some modifications. Finally, Senator Barham’s office made additional corrections and put it into its final form.

The State Legislature convened in the spring of 1999. Senator Barham (Democrat) filed the bill just prior to the filing deadline. We then asked our friends and e-mail correspondents for help, requesting that they contact Senator Barham and the LDWF and impress upon them the importance of the bill. Within two weeks SB 937 went before the Senate Committee on Natural Resources. By that time Senator Robert Barham had received mail from about two hundred people from around the world praising Louisiana’s move to protect the box turtle. As a consequence he became quite zealous in his support for the bill.

Kathy Wascom (President of LWF), Randy Lanctot (Executive Director of LWF) and ourselves, met with the LDWF and asked them to join with us in supporting SB 937. (We had not let LDWF know about the bill ahead of time.) The LDWF declined saying they would make no recommendation for or against the bill. We then wrote letters to every member of the Natural Resources committees of both the House and Senate telling them why the legislation was necessary. Hundreds of people sent e-mail to every member of the Louisiana Legislature urging them to support it.

Many of the legislatures had pleasant memories of seeing a box turtles in their yards when they were children. Several expressed surprise when they were told that our states’ box turtles were being commercially harvested. We were told that never before had they received so many letters about any legislation. Our Senators and Representatives were considerate, fair and listened to what we had to say about these animals.

We made trips to Baton Rouge to testify before both the Senate and House Committees on Natural Resources regarding this bill. Each committee member was given a copy of letters from herpetologists Dr. Neil Douglas of the University of Louisiana at Monroe and Dr. Harold Dundee of Tulane University. Both of these professors had worked with herps in Louisiana for more than thirty years. They stated that Louisiana’s box turtle populations were decreasing and that a sustainable commercial harvest was not feasible.

We are still utterly amazed that the legislation passed both the Senate and the House unanimously. It greatly surprised us that there was no opposition, since we had been in a continuous battle with pet trade supporters within the Louisiana Reptile and Amphibian Task Force.

We are sincerely grateful to the Louisiana Wildlife Federation for their help and support. Also we are deeply indebted to the legislators of the State of Louisiana for passing the legislation. We can honestly say this is something we never thought would happen in Louisiana. Finally, we would like to take this opportunity to thank everybody who helped to make this dream a reality.

Literature Cited
Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries. 1998. Unpublished Box Turtle Commerce Summary. Jeff Boundy(Comp.) Fur & Refuge Division, Baton Rouge. 29 June 1998