Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, February 20, 2020


Elise Bennett, (727) 755-6950,

Report: Refusal to Ban Trapping Threatens Turtles in Nine States, Enables Illegal Trade

CHARLESTON, S.C.— Nine states still allow unlimited commercial harvesting of some or all native turtle species, contributing to export practices that threaten the survival of wild populations, according to a new report by the Center for Biological Diversity.

The report, Robbing the Wild: How Nine States’ Refusal to Ban Trapping Is Hurting America’s Wild Turtles, describes how laws that permit trappers to take unlimited numbers of turtles contributes to the export of hundreds of thousands of native turtles from the United States each year and enables illegal trade. The states with weak laws include Arkansas, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee.

“When turtles are ripped from the wild to meet the voracious demand of international markets, it has profound consequences for wildlife and wild places here at home,” said Elise Bennett, a Center attorney dedicated to protecting imperiled reptiles and amphibians. “It’s up to us, through our elected officials, to protect our most sensitive creatures. Unfortunately, too many states are falling behind when it comes to protecting wild turtles.”

States with the weakest turtle trapping laws, like Louisiana and South Carolina, have been implicated in significant turtle trafficking operations that reach far beyond their borders, threatening wild turtles in surrounding states.

Today’s report finds that 30 states prohibit commercial turtle trapping, nine states provide moderate protection through size and bag limits, and nine states allow at least one species of turtle to be trapped in unlimited numbers.

“With more than 60% of turtle species at risk of extinction worldwide, we have to do all we can to protect our nation’s turtle populations,” Bennett said. “We see hope in recent actions from states like Texas and Missouri, where all commercial turtle trapping was banned in 2018. But we’re disheartened that states like Louisiana and Maryland are continuing to ignore the facts and failing to protect their natural heritage.”

There has been some important progress in curbing wild turtle trapping. Since 2008 the Center and partners have carried out a campaign to end trapping of wild turtles through legal petitions and advocacy. Of the 15 states where the Center petitioned or advocated to ban commercial trapping, five banned the practice and three adopted stronger protections.

South Carolina legislators are currently considering a bill that would position the state to join the majority of those that prohibit commercial wild turtle trade.

Turtles cannot withstand even low levels of commercial trapping because their survival depends on living long lives and having many opportunities to reproduce. One study of common snapping turtles found that removing as few as 10% of adults from a population could reduce the entire population by half in only 15 years.

Turtles are the oldest living group of reptiles on the planet. The ancestors of modern turtles survived the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs and evolved into more than 350 species living today — from the prehistoric-looking alligator snapping turtle in the United States to the brilliantly patterned Indian star tortoise in India. But human pressures have made them one of the most threatened groups of vertebrates in the world, with unrestrained commercial trapping and trade helping to drive their declines.

common_snapping_turtle_by_Jessica Bolser_USFWS_FPWC.jpg
Common snapping turtle hatchling. Photo credit: Jessica Bolser/USFWS. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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