Like most of Ontario’s freshwater turtle species, snapping turtles are listed as “at risk.” Unlike the others, however, they’re legally hunted.
Although Ontario’s Ministry of Natural resources is planning to restrict the hunt further, some are saying it’s not enough.
Ottawa ecologist David Seburn, who prepared the Ottawa Field Naturalists’ Club’s latest submission to the environmental registry, told Metro News that the hunt is “not based in science.”
“It’s based on the fact that we’ve done this historically, why don’t we keep on doing it? That’s not necessarily a good idea,” he said.
The hunt was once unregulated, but in 2012 it became mandatory for Ontarians who harvest snapping turtles to report their numbers to the Ministry of Natural Resources. Restrictions were also put in place to limit hunters to taking two turtles per day. According to the OFNC, the latest changes being proposed would shorten the hunting period and reduce the daily limit to one snapping turtle, with a possession limit of two.
But even this, Seburn writes, “could be catastrophic to many small- or medium-sized populations.”
Long-term studies have shown that snapping turtle populations are declining, and according to the federal government’s management plan, a 0.1 percent increase in the annual mortality rate of snapping turtles 15 years of age and older would halve the number of adults in a local population in less than 20 years.
It takes up to 20 years for snapping turtles to reach sexual maturity, and scientists have estimated that only one in 1,500 snapping turtle eggs makes it to adulthood. Therefore, saving mature snappers is critical to the species’ survival.
Hunting is not the greatest threat these turtles face. Despite the fact that turtles’ tough shells have helped them survive predators and mass extinctions for millions of years, they also slow them down, making busy roadways the biggest hazard they face. But as conservation group Ontario Nature noted last spring, legal hunting is “one threat the turtle faces that could be easily limited.”
The public is invited to submit comments on the province’s proposed changes to its hunting regulations until January 30, 2017.