Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 24, 2017

Contact: Collette Adkins, (651) 955-3821,

Iowa Reins in Exploitative Turtle Trapping

New Regulations Curb Killing, But More Protections Needed

DES MOINES, Iowa— In response to advocacy by the Center for Biological Diversity and other conservation groups, new regulations restricting collection and killing of four species of wild turtles in Iowa went into effect this week.

The new regulations impose closed seasons, daily bag limits and possession limits for common snapping turtles, painted turtles, spiny softshells and smooth softshells.

“It's great that Iowa is finally clamping down on exploitation of its turtles,” said Collette Adkins, a senior attorney at the Center, which in 2009 sought a ban on commercial turtle collecting in Iowa. “The new regulations are a welcome step, but a complete ban on commercial trapping is needed to fully protect turtles.”

Before these new regulations went into effect, Iowa allowed year-round commercial collection of four turtle species without any daily bag or possession limits. The new regulations protect the four turtles during their peak mating season by prohibiting commercial collection from May 15 to July 15. But year-round recreational collection of common snappers is still allowed.

The state's new regulations also set daily bag limits of four common snapping turtles, one spiny or smooth softshell and one painted turtle. Commercial turtle harvesters can possess 20 common snapping turtles, five spiny softshell or smooth softshell turtles and five painted turtles. Collection of wild turtle eggs is prohibited.

“We're so glad that states across the country are now restricting turtle slaughter,” said Adkins. “Turtle trappers in the United States are catching and exporting millions of wild freshwater turtles every year, devastating populations that are already suffering from a lot of other threats, like habitat loss, water pollution and road mortality.”

Just as Iowa finalized its new regulations, turtle trappers in Iowa began pushing a new bill (S.F. 460) that would replace them with revised rules more favorable to for-profit turtle trappers. Yet many surrounding Midwest states — North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Illinois and Indiana — have determined their turtle populations can only be sustainably managed by banning all commercial collection.

More than 2 million wild-caught, live turtles are exported from the United States each year to supply food and medicinal markets in Asia, where native turtle populations have already been depleted by soaring consumption. Adult turtles are also taken from the wild to breed hatchlings for the international pet trade. Large adults, females in particular, are the most valuable and therefore a primary target of commercial trappers. Yet such trapping can cause population declines even in some of the most common freshwater turtles.

As part of a campaign to protect turtles from overexploitation, the Center in 2008 and 2009 petitioned Iowa and other states with unrestricted commercial turtle collection to improve harvest regulations. In 2009 Florida responded by banning almost all commercial collection of freshwater turtles from public and private waters; in 2012 Georgia approved state rules regulating the commercial collection of turtles; and Alabama completely banned commercial collection. In October 2016 the Missouri Department of Conservation announced — in response to a 2016 Center petition — that it will consider ending unlimited commercial collection of the state's wild freshwater turtles.

In response to a 2011 Center petition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in May added four turtles — including common snapping turtles, smooth softshell turtles and spiny softshell turtles that are found in Iowa — to a list called “CITES Appendix III.” Trade in Appendix III species requires an export permit and documentation that the animal was caught or acquired in compliance with the law, allowing the United States to closely monitor trade. The animals must also be shipped using methods designed to prevent cruel treatment. 

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.2 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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