Starting Jan. 1, Minnesota turtles are protected from commercial harvest

A painted turtle awaits racing during Turtle Fest in Perham, Minn.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News | file photo

Minnesota’s turtles will get new protections starting Monday.

Last year, state lawmakers approved a law eliminating the commercial harvest of two species – western painted turtles and snapping turtles. It also prohibits the use of traps to catch turtles.

Turtles face a variety of threats, including habitat loss, road mortality and pollution. Scientists are concerned about the threat of overharvesting on turtle populations.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources first proposed eliminating the commercial turtle harvest two decades ago, but met with pushback, said Krista Larson, a non-game research biologist with the DNR.

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As a compromise, the agency decided to allow existing harvesters to keep their licenses, but not issue any new ones. 

But the harvest numbers continued to climb as other states eliminated commercial harvesting, Larson said. Thirty-four other states ban the practice.

“So even though there were fewer license holders in Minnesota harvesting turtles, those individual license holders, on average, were harvesting more turtles than they had in the past,” she said.

Turtles are long-lived creatures and slow to reach sexual maturity, so it’s difficult for the population to repopulate, Larson said. Their eggs are also vulnerable to racoons and other predators.

“They just don’t have the ability to withstand the type of takes the typical game species can,” she said.

Conservationists and turtle advocates celebrated the law’s passage.

“Tens of thousands of Minnesota’s turtles are now safe from trappers out to make a quick buck,” said Collette Adkins, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a news release in May. “The science shows that even a small number of turtle traffickers can quickly devastate turtle populations.”

Under the new law, people will still be allowed to raise turtles to sell with a special aquaculture license.