Overhunting of Wild Turtles Critiqued

Feb 19, 2016

Conservationists in the Iowa House have advanced a bipartisan bill to limit hunting of potentially threatened Iowa wildlife.    

The bill would create a hunting season and bag limits for the commercial harvest of turtles, which has increased in Iowa as other states have cracked down.  

Ackworth Democrat Scott Ourth says there’s demand for several species of turtles in Tama, Johnson, and other counties.

“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.”

Asian markets prize the animals for their meat as well as their shells which are ground up and used as medicine.

Ourth says the business shifted to Iowa after surrounding states banned or limited commercial harvesting of turtles.

Ourth says turtles reproduce very slowly, and the harvest is taking out too many for the species to recover.  

“Their reproductive cycle, unlike rabbits or mink, or anything else for that matter, is very slow to repopulate the environment,” Ourth says, “so if we continue to take them at this rate they'll become extinct.”

Ourth says it takes seven years for a turtle to reach reproductive maturity.  

Under the bill, the Department of Natural Resources would write up rules for a turtle hunting season.

Iowa is one of only 10 states without limits on taking turtles from the wild.