Conservationists, Trappers Square Off Over Threatened Wildlife

Dec 13, 2016

A statehouse committee today heard impassioned testimony in a dispute over a proposed new season for hunting wild turtles in Iowa.  

After action by the legislature, the DNR proposes a nearly year-long season to trap a limited number of the reptiles which conservationists say are threatened with possible extinction.  

New rules outlining the season were under discussion at the Iowa Administrative Rules Review Committee.

The science on the turtle life cycle is clear

Conservationists say the proposed season is too long.

“Turtles mature at slow rates and few reach maturity," said Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club Director Neala Seaman.    “Although the turtles will be protected during nesting, significant numbers of turtles will be harvested just prior to nesting.” 

But trappers say even with the longer season, the proposed bag limits will put them out of business.   

“When the bill was passed the direct quote was ‘We would not put anyone out of business,’” said Jim Obradovich with the Iowa Trappers Association.  “We’ve been trying to work with them.

Governor Branstad objected to an earlier proposal favored by the Sierra club to ban trapping for six months out of the year.  

“The number of turtles has been declining across the state,” Seaman said.  “The rules should provide an opportunity for the turtles to regain their population sizes.”

I think you need to do a little more thinking about who you're hurting here

Iowa is one of only ten states without limits on its turtle harvest season.

Rep. Scott Ourth (D-Ackworth) led debate on the bill in the Iowa House to mandate a turtle hunting season.

“Currently there is no season or bag limit for the commercial harvest of spiny softshell, smooth softshell, the American snapping turtle, and the painted turtle in Iowa,” Ourth says.   “There's a huge market in China for these species.”

According to the Department of Natural Resources there are just over 100 licensed turtle harvesters in Iowa.   

The new law mandates a five year study of the impact of the new season on turtle populations.

“The study has been designed and has already begun,” said DNR Deputy Director Bruce Trautman.

The committee did not vote to delay the rules.  

Trautman said the agency continues to take comments from interested parties.

“I think you need to do a little bit more thinking about who you're hurting here,” said Rep. Mark Costello (R-Imogene).