Currently, regulations for box turtles and all reptiles and amphibians not listed as endangered, threatened or candidate in Pennsylvania are as follows: there is a daily and maximum possession limit of two box turtles. It is unlawful to sell, offer for sale, import or export for consideration, trade or barter, or purchase an amphibian or reptile, whether dead or alive, in whole or in parts, including eggs or any lifestage (except for common snapping turtles) that was taken, caught or killed in this Commonwealth. It is unlawful to import and release non-native species into watersheds of the Commonwealth. It is unlawful to damage or disrupt the nest or eggs of a reptile or to gather, take or possess the eggs of a reptile in the natural environment of this Commonwealth. The majority of these regulations have been in effect since 1979 when the Commission first received jurisdiction for all amphibians and reptiles, although significant improvements have occurred via rule changes promulgated in 1996. We believe Pennsylvania has had the most conservative set of herptile regulations in the region until recently when some, but not all, neighboring states have begun to also update their herptile regulations.
In recent years, there have been increased levels of illegal trade in reptiles and amphibians. In 1994, the box turtle was added to Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). CITES II listing primarily regulates and documents the exportation of this species from the US. It is also intended, via record keeping, to document the origin of said individuals thereby helping to curb illegal collection from states such as Pennsylvania where commercial collecting is prohibited. We have received no reports from the Office of CITES Management Authority regarding box turtle exports purported to be from Pennsylvania. It is standard CITES procedure to report such activity when it occurs. The PFBC continues to be involved in law enforcement activities that address illegal harvest of reptiles and amphibians whether for personal or commercial use. The PFBC will continue to work in state and cooperatively with neighboring states and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to address illegal collecting.
Specific to herptiles in general and box turtles in particular, PFBC management efforts include oversight and contracting of the state’s ongoing herpetological atlas, field surveys, research, occurrence tracking, development of regulations and law enforcement.
Impacts of box turtle collection: Anecdotal evidence has been cited by several letter and email writers suggesting that persons collecting a turtle to keep as a pet for a while or permanently has resulted in the decline of the box turtle in Pennsylvania. Indeed it has been suggested that severe ecological damage of box turtle populations has resulted from this single factor. However, it is clear the box turtle’s worst enemies are not curious children, enthusiastic teenagers or amateur herpetologists. There is no reason or evidence to suggest that legal collection of herptiles via amateur herpetology is experiencing an upward trend.
Other factors affecting box turtle populations: Any decline in box turtle populations is more attributable to housing subdivisions, new highways, increased traffic on current highways, habitat loss and fragmentation. Many environmental regulations are focused on wetlands and not uplands. Therefore, terrestrial species such as box turtles receive little if any habitat protection. It is no secret that roads represent a great hazard to turtles. A single four lane highway cut through prime woodland box turtle habitat could literally eliminate more box turtles in one county than would be removed from the wild across the entire state by legal hobbyists. Almost all of these projects will impact habitat occupied by box turtles and other herptiles. Habitat loss is the greatest impact to this species. The PFBC's jurisdiction generally does not extend to habitat protection. Our agency does have the opportunity to provide comments about various project applications with a view to providing species protection. In this state, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has the authority to issue permits at the state level for land development projects. Land use decisions at the local level are determined by each of the 2,572 separate governing municipalities in the state. Active participation in the planning processes at each of these levels by conservation-minded citizens is what will ultimately shape the future of all wildlife (including box turtles) and their habitats in Pennsylvania.
Herpetolgical Advisory Committee Action. The Fish and Boat Commission has a Herpetological Advisory Committee which acts in a non-binding advisory role to the staff and Commissioners. At the Advisory Committee's May 2000 meeting, Dr. Belzer made a presentation to the Committee asking for their support for regulations to ban the collection of box turtles. At the conclusion of the meeting, Dr. Belzer was asked to provide the Committee with any additional scientific information to support claims that legal collection under current regulations has lead to the decline of box turtles.
The Advisory Committee has not recommended that the Commission consider new regulations to ban legal collection of box turtles consistent with current regulations. There are many facets and implications to this issue. There are also other species besides the box turtle which may actually warrant a closed season.
In the past, the Herpetology Advisory Committee has considered the issue of reptile and amphibian collection for personal use. They have opted to allow collection of some species for personal use. Among their reasons, they recognized that in many cases those persons most inclined to protect our species and natural resources are those who have a personal attachment to or involvement with them. They did not want to eliminate the opportunity for citizens to lawfully interact with these animals, which in some cases includes removing an individual from the wild. In practice, even though our regulations allow persons to lawfully collect and remove a limited number of individuals from the wild, we always encourage people to be responsible in their use of and interaction with herptile resources. This educational approach may be preferable to a regulatory approach in light of the status of the population of box turtles, enforcement issues and policy concerns.