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© Lora Denis
Question: How is it that the Ontario government can include snapping turtles on the provincial endangered species list while at the same time allowing, and even encouraging, the hunting of these long-lived reptiles?
Staff ecologist John Urquhart wondered this too, and put the issue to the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) last December. The response, which we received earlier this week, raises tough questions about MNR’s commitment to species protection.
Both Ontario and the federal government have recently listed the snapping turtle as a species of “special concern.” The reason: snapping turtles have an “extraordinarily low” rate of reproductive success, and their numbers depend, in large measure, on their longevity. According to John’s submission, that means the populations are very vulnerable to increases in adult mortality. “An increase of only 1% mortality over natural rates can cause the gradual extinction of the population.” In a community of just 200 turtles, John estimates, it would only take two “human-induced” mortalities, i.e. hunting, as well as accidental or intentional road kills, per year to wipe out the population.
Indeed, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that hunters have been targeting snapping turtles. In 2009, an Ontario Nature member found at least six snapping turtle carcasses piled up behind a bush on our Kinghurst nature reserve. Last year, our conservation science manager, Mark Carabetta, saw the remaining bones. “It’s awful to come across something like this on a reserve,” says Mark. “These places are supposed to be sanctuaries for wildlife. The Province is sending mixed messages. On the one hand, a species is supposed to be protected when it’s on the endangered list. On the other hand, you can kill those species.”
MNR, for its part, allows hunters to kill two snapping turtles per day, with a five per bag limit. The season is year-round for most regions. Those levels date back to the 1990 imposition of “conservative” regulations designed to curb aggressive commercial turtle hunting. The current limit, according to MNR, “has helped ensure that snapping turtle has remained widespread and locally abundant within its core range.”
MNR claims its approach to species protection is to ensure the viability of snapping turtle habitats, such as wetlands. What MNR didn’t explain in its response to us is what has happened to the turtle population since 1990 that would have prompted Ontario to list it in 2009 under the Endangered Species Act.
As if all this wasn’t bad enough, the government won’t deliver a management plan outlining how best to protect snapping turtles until September (or later) 2014. MNR assures us there’s absolutely no urgency. “The relatively low number of individual harvesters, combined with the implementation of conservative regulations, has significantly reduced the number of snapping turtles that can be harvested each year.”
We didn’t understand that explanation, either.
I LOVE the Turtles! Donatello is MY favorite, too! Sometimes I wish i could just call on him to take care of all those peploe who give me trouble sometimes. LOL Don’t you wish that, too? Well, take care my dear, and enjoy your pizza. I like mushrooms, just like Hobbits. Do you like Hobbits?
Donatello is my favourite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle too! Though I genuinely love and deeply respect all of Ontario’s amazing native turtle species! For great information about all of Ontario’s turtles: https://www.ontarionature.org/atlas
In response to the comment about moving snappers:
They will not bite if they are under the water. They will bite if they are picked up improperly, as this is when they feel threatened. I would suggest avoiding them. I presume that if they are in a rocky, shallow area near the bottom of a waterfall, that is not the place where boats are anyway?
If you know how to properly move a snapper that is trying to cross a road (they often do this when they are laying), then it is ok to move them in the direction that they are travelling. However, do not move them back to where they came from, as they will just try to cross the road again and will be more likely to get hit. One way to safely move a snapper who is trying to cross the road is to have a shovel in your car that you can gently pick it up with.
Hope that helps,
Friends of Ontario Snapping Turtles
Traffic and hunting are not the only threats. Lack of knowledge about Bio-diversity loss is increasingly evident in my region as no management plans in place for such things as natural features, cultural heritage or especially Wetland Features, which are being filled by developers or even water tables being reduced by development that is destroying natural habitat of recently learned area of high concentrations of species at risk, this continuing status of so many species is one of the signs of Bio- diversity loss which the Convention on Bio-diversity 1995 warned Governments about. They were clearly told it could no longer be business as usual or the cost to future generations would be costly.And so it begins….costly to the species that can’t vote. MNR wants you and I to be better stewards of our lands and waters, but a different set of rules for developers that are destroying a non renewable resource, altering water quality and quantity, fragmenting wildlife corridors all because they say they are creating jobs. I feel in this day and age the only good job is a green job, that causes no mitigation measures required, or no loss of ecologic integrity to each community’s ecosystem. Knowledge is Power Lets Use It For The Greater Purpose..protecting what sustains us.
We have many snappers in our area also. We live beside a waterfall and where it empties into the river creates a great habitat for turtles. We have never found the snapping turtle to be aggressive in the water nor on land for that matter. Snapping turtles come up on our cottage property and lay their eggs and as we walk around them they just continue to sit their and lay their eggs never once acting aggressively towards us. We video-taped a snapper climbing 500 feet up our driveway this past spring, at times coming very close to her, and she never once displayed any aggression towards us. She just continued on her merry way, laying down every once in a while due to the steep climb, until she reached the top of the driveway, and also the top of the waterfall in order to enter the calmer waters of the creek on the other side of the road. It was a wonderful and priviledged experience. I think your problem is more fear-based than a reality. Human’s fear of animals, reptiles, etc. has always been a bane to their existence and therefore affecting the natural order of God’s creation.
I’m curious to know what the “rules” are on moving a snapper? For example, on our lake we’ve had some very aggressive snappers hanging around swimming areas and in boating areas, and generally being a risk to it’s own well being because of the boats, and also a concern to swimmers and pets. Across the road from the lake, there is a marsh/ pond area with lots of wildlife and it’s not uncommon for people to move the snapper safely over to the pond. I’ve heard mixed opinions on this, but myself and those who have done it feel that the turtle would be happier in the pond where there’s no human interaction. Is this okay?
I would think that if the turtles are chosing to dwell in the lake as opposed to the pond, they are obviously NOT happier over there. Could be there is no food sources. Also moving the turtles “across the road” means they will ahve to cross the road (and potentially be hit) to get back to their natural habitat. I would advise against moving them, and keep your eyes open. They were there first. 🙂
Snapping turtles are primarily hunted for food, with the meat often exported to Asia. In the 1980s, a commercial harvest of over one hundred thousand pounds annually was banned and the sale of snapping turtles has been illegal since. However, there remains a legally allowed limit of 2 per person per day for anyone with a fishing licence. Reports of individuals hunting for personal consumption are more frequent in areas that are hard hit by job losses and poverty.
Another reason snapping turtles are hunted is because they are perceived to be dangerous, or simply not liked. The Ministry of Natural Resources is not active on this issue, despite the unique life history of turtles and the recent listing of the snapping turtle as a species of special concern.
– John Urquhart, staff ecologist, Ontario Nature
For what purpose are turtles hunted? Food? Sport?
Thank you for bringing this to the public’s attention. I have shared this with my friends and family on Facebook. Now that I know about it, what is suggested I do about it? Should I voice my concerns to my MPP, or to the MNR?
Thanks for your concern about this issue Michelle. We would recommend that you voice your concerns to both your MPP and the MNR.
I’d like to know what the Ministry of Transportation is doing to prevent turtles from being killed on Ontario highways. They know it is happening — even to endangered populations — so what is MTO doing to reduce this? Don’t they have some legal obligation if they know it is happening?
The Ministry of Transportation is building many wildlife corridors and crossings wherever they are creating new roads and doing construction on existing roads. They are also paying for research into the most effective types of wildlife crossings for a variety of wildlife, including turtles. While one may question their choice to install some roads in new areas, the work they are doing to save animals from being struck by cars is highly commendable and in many cases far surpassing what is legally required.
– John Urquhart, staff ecologist, Ontario Nature