Wild turtles in Missouri may soon be protected from trappers, as the Missouri Department of Conservation proposed a ban this week on the commercial harvest of turtles in the state.
Many wild turtles that are captured and exported from the United States are sold as exotic pets or processed into food and traditional Chinese medicine. Missouri is one of a few states in the country that doesn't impose a limit on how many wild turtles that trappers can collect.
In August 2016, lawyers from the Center for Biological Diversity and the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center petitioned the state to halt commercial trapping of wild turtles.
"The science shows that this for-profit turtle trapping is putting the state's turtles at risk," said Collette Adkins, a senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. "A ban is the only answer and if finalized the ban would protect the state's turtles from most trappers who only want to make a quick buck."
Adkins added wild turtles in the state already face a number of threats, including "water pollution, habitat loss, collisions with cars."
"Collection by people is another threat they really can't withstand," she said.
The Missouri Department of Conservation is taking public comments for 30 days and will publish a final rule in February. The Center of Biological Diversity also petitioned the state of Arkansas last week to stop commercial wild turtle trapping.
Previously, environmental lawyers had petitioned Missouri to stop wild turtle trapping in 2009, but failed. However, since then, scientists have produced research that shows that even low rates of harvesting can threaten turtle species. At a Missouri Conservation Commission meeting in June, state herpetologist Jeff Briggler spoke in favor of imposing the ban.
Missouri's turtles, such as the common snapping turtle, contribute to environmental health by maintaining water quality and supporting other wildlife that live in the state's waterways.
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