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Turtle and Tortoise Newsletter, 2000, 2:16
© 2000 by Chelonian Research Foundation

Turtle and Tortoise Newsletter

The Box Turtle Coalition of the Northeast Urges a Halt to Recreational Collecting in Pennsylvania

Cheryl Lechtanski
Box Turtle Coalition of the Northeast, P.O. Box 350, Port Monmouth, NJ 07758;
E-mail: paboxies@hotmail.com

We, the Box Turtle Coalition of the Northeast, urge the PA Fish & Boat Commission to close the season on RECREATIONAL (commercial harvesting is already banned) box turtle collecting in Pennsylvania for the following reasons:

1) There is abundant, reliable anecdotal evidence (plus longitudinal studies of 10-50 yearsí duration revealing the decline and disappearances of box turtle populations.

2) All species of this genus have been afforded strict international protections by the 1994 CITES treaty

3) Border states, NY & NJ, have long prohibited box turtle collecting (NY since 1905; NJ since 1978). Ohio listed this turtle a species of special concern and banned collecting in 1997.

4) Box turtles have small home ranges. Research indicates that they can not detect potential mates at a distance. They rely on high population densities in small areas for the incidental encounters needed to sustain their populations. Populations with densities approximating 10/acre have been found to be too unstable to avoid decline to extinction. Census studies find that most populationsí densities are now far below that.

5) Because box turtles can live to 100 years, reproductively dead, depleted populations outlive the humans who misinterpret the presence of those remnant individuals as a viable population.

6) The geriatric, relict status of many populations (thought to be stable) goes unrecognized without lengthy study on age & density characteristics. The long time needed for such studies means that, even as the studies are being conducted, populations are slipping below a density threshold from which they can not recover.

7) Unlike fish, birds, mammals, etc, box turtles donít emigrate in sufficient numbers to replenish habitats which have lost them (especially when their populations are already in decline).

8) Attempts in PA & NY to artificially repopulate former habitat reveal the impracticality (and probable impossibility) of recovering destabilized and extirpated box turtle populations. Efforts to undo the consequences of lax protection can not remedy failures to aggressively conserve this species.

9) Captured box turtles often die in captivity. Their homing instinct propels dispersal from unfamiliar habitat if they are released after collection. During dispersal after release, they usually die from increased energy use, highway exposure, and unfamiliarity with new foraging & hibernating sites.

10) Dispersal of box turtles after collection can also spread disease. A new disease that was spread through gopher & desert tortoise populations by released pet tortoises in the 1970ís now threatens those species with extinction. In 1998 the same disease organism was found, for the first time, in a box turtle.

Given the array of ecological damage fomented by current PA policy, we urge the PA Fish & Boat Commission to revoke its permission for citizens to collect box turtles.

Please help us encourage a ban on recreational box turtle collecting in Pennsylvania by writing, as soon as possible, to

1) Delano Graff, Director, PA Fish & Boat Commission, 450 Robinson Ln., Bellefonte, PA 16823-9620; E-mail: dgraff@fish.state.pa.us

2) Andrew Shiels, Endangered Species Unit, address same as #1; E-mail: ashiels@fish.state.pa.us and

3) Peter Colangelo, Executive Director PA Fish & Boat Commission, 3532 Walnut St., P.O. Box 67000, Harrisburg, PA 17106-7000; E-mail:
pcolangelo@fish.state.pa.us.

In addition, please contact Governor Tom Ridge, 225 Main Capitol, Harrisburg, PA 17120, tel 717-787-2500 and your legislators who can be found at www.capweb.net.

Since turtle populations extend across state lines, supporting comments from out-of-state turtle researchers and conservationists would provide helpful testimony to that coming from PA citizens. Continued legal collection in Pennsylvania will also encourage illegal poaching in neighboring states. For more information contact the author or Bill Belzer (billbelzer@hotmail.com).

In particular, we need more support from the research community with solid examples of the damage recreational collecting can inflict on turtle populations. Please help.

Editorsí note: The following two websites have information on this topic:www.suite101.com/article.cfm/127/38437 and www.herpconservation.org/btcne/