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Missouri conservation officials propose ban on commercial wild turtle trapping

The alligator snapping turtle is one of several freshwater turtles that live in Missouri.
File Photo | United States Fish and Wildlife Service
The alligator snapping turtle is one of several freshwater turtles that live in Missouri.

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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Copyright 2017 St. Louis Public Radio

Eli Chen is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio. She comes to St. Louis after covering the eroding Delaware coast, bat-friendly wind turbine technology, mouse love songs and various science stories for Delaware Public Media/WDDE-FM. Before that, she corralled robots and citizen scientists for the World Science Festival in New York City and spent a brief stint booking guests for Science Friday’s live events in 2013. Eli grew up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, where a mixture of teen angst, a love for Ray Bradbury novels and the growing awareness about climate change propelled her to become the science storyteller she is today. When not working, Eli enjoys a solid bike ride, collects classic disco, watches standup comedy and is often found cuddling other people’s dogs. She has a bachelor’s in environmental sustainability and creative writing at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and has a master’s degree in journalism, with a focus on science reporting, from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.