DNR to Hold Hearing on Freshwater Turtle Conservation

SOCIAL CIRCLE, Ga. (Dec. 28, 2011) – Proposed regulations aimed at maintaining healthy populations of Georgia’s freshwater turtles will be the focus of a public hearing next month near Macon.

The hearing, held by the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division, is set for 7 p.m. Jan. 5 at the Georgia Forestry Commission auditorium in Dry Branch, 5645 Riggins Mill Road. The state Board of Natural Resources is scheduled to consider the proposed rules on Jan. 25 in Atlanta.

If approved, the regulations will, among other things, establish definitions for commercial enterprise, export, farming and sale of freshwater turtles, specify unlawful activities, establish permit requirements, set turtle harvest limits, provide for the acquisition of turtles, and set specifications for turtle farms.

The proposed rule change was spurred by an international demand for turtles as food, folk medicines and pets that has increased the harvest and export of U.S. turtles to other countries, especially in Southeast Asia. Georgia is one of the most diverse states in turtles, with 27 species. Yet only six of the 19 freshwater species receive legal protections.

The Georgia General Assembly passed legislation in 2010 (O.C.G.A 27-3-19.1) authorizing the board, which sets policy for the state Department of Natural Resources, to create regulations. The need for protections for freshwater turtles was also cited in the state Wildlife Action Plan, a comprehensive strategy guiding efforts to conserve biological diversity.

The Wildlife Resources Division, part of the Department of Natural Resources, has worked for more than a year with stakeholders including turtle farmers, trappers, scientists and others to craft regulations that conserve native turtles while allowing existing farming and commercial operations to continue.

As proposed, permits would not be required for people who want to harvest or keep as pets up to 10 native freshwater turtles. Pet dealers licensed by the state Department of Agriculture would be exempt. The protection of turtle species listed under the Georgia Endangered Wildlife Act or the federal Endangered Species Act would not be affected.

Participants at the hearing may present data, make a statement, or offer a viewpoint or argument orally or in writing. Statements should be concise to permit everyone an opportunity to speak. Participants are required to register on arrival and notify the registering official of their intent to give a statement.

The Board of Natural Resources is scheduled to consider the proposed rules at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 25, at 2 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, SE, Suite 1252, in Atlanta.

Those unable to attend the public hearing may submit written statements, before close of business on Thursday, Jan. 12. Statements should be mailed to the attention of Mike Harris at Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division, 2070 U.S. Highway 278, S.E., Social Circle, Ga. 30025.

Download the notice and synopsis of the proposed rule-making at www.georgiawildlife.com/node/2832.

DNR Wildlife Resources Division contacts:

Rick Lavender, communications/outreach specialist – (770) 918-6787; [email protected]

Mike Harris, Nongame Conservation Section chief – (770) 761-3035; [email protected]