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Snapping turtles at centre of hunting debate

CBC News,
February 13 2017

Ontario’s largest hunting group the OFAH does not support a shortened season

A species-at-risk biologist from southern Ontario says hunting for snapping turtles should stop in the province.

Scott Gillingwater, a past president of the Canadian Herpetological Society, says a proposal from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry to make the season for harvesting the turtles just one month long is not sufficient.

Early in 2017, the comment period for an Environmental Bill of Rights or EBR posting on snapping turtle harvest changes in Ontario ended.

The MNRF has proposed making the snapping turtle hunt just a one month season with a one turtle daily possession.

Under the current rules an Ontario resident with a fishing licence is allowed to take two snapping turtles a day with a possession limit of up to five turtles.

As well, it’s presently a year round hunt for some of the northern wildlife management units while in southern regions it’s a two month hunt between July 15 and September 15.

Gillingwater, who works for the Upper Thames Conservation Authority, said there is no room for any turtle harvest in Ontario because there are so many factors against turtles already.

“Even if it was a small take, we are still talking about extremely valuable old animals that should not be removed from the population,” he said. “Turtles are unlike any other game species. They don’t react the same way. They can’t be managed the same way. As our rabbits. As our moose. As our deer. As our bear.”

Gillingwater said Ontario and Sakatchewan are the only provinces that still allow snapping turtle hunting in Canada.

He said increased road building in remote areas has increasingly exposed snapping turtles to being run over by cars and trucks.

“These animals take anywhere from 17 to 20 years to reach maturity,” said Gillingwater. ” And it may take many decades for them to replace themselves.They have evolved to live very,very long lives and when you suddenly decrease the adults in that population you cripple that population.”

Many environmental groups, including Ontario Nature and the David Suzuki Foundation, have called for an outright ban on snapping turtle hunting.

The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, a hunting and fishing lobby group with 100,000 members,does not believe snapping turtles are “at risk” in Ontario or Canada.

Dawn Sucee, who is a fish and wildlife biologist with the OFAH, said there is no scientific evidence that would warrant changing the rules around hunting snapping turtles in Ontario.

Sucee said the group did not support the recent proposal by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry to shorten the season and lower the bag limit.

Sucee said her group has supported the mandatory reporting of any turtle harvest in Ontario. But she said none of that information was included in the ministries recent EBR posting about shortening the snapper hunt.

“That proposal was presented without evidence to support it,” she said. “There is no harvest or data information included. No population assessment or distribution information.”

Sucee said the OFAH will support what she called “conservation measures to carry out surveys and monitoring of snapping turtles.”

She said the majority of the members of the OFAH do not hunt turtles, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for an occasional harvest.

“Snapping turtles are frequently encountered by Ontario anglers and hunters,” said Sucee.”The vast majority may not have interest in harvesting them, but there are Ontario citizens who legally harvest for personal consumption with their valid fishing licence.”

Snapping turtles are generally harvested for their meat, to make soup, although some cultures use them for medicinal purposes.