Texas turtles are disappearing at an alarming rate! This is your opportunity to take action to protect them.

Background: Recent social changes in China have created a new middle class that is eager to pay top dollars for turtle meat, which is considered to be a Chinese delicacy. As a result, demand has skyrocketed and turtles in China and neighboring Southeast Asian countries have been virtually wiped out. Turtle farming is beginning to take hold in China, but cannot yet meet the market's demand. So, the market is reaching out to other parts of the world, particularly North America where commerce and shipment capabilities already exist to ship turtles directly to Asia. Here at home: Most Texas turtles are currently classified as non-game species, which means there are no limitations on the numbers that can be harvested from the wild. There are a few individuals in Texas who are taking advantage of the lack of regulation and have made a business of supplying Texas turtles to the Asian food market. One trapper in particular has actively recruited and formed a "co-op" of 450 trappers throughout the state that helps him meet (self-reported) Asian contract quotas that exceed 300,000 turtles each year. The human element: Turtles are being sent not only to food markets in Asia, but also (in much smaller numbers) to Asian supermarkets in Texas. Some of these turtles are being trapped in bodies of water in which the fish have been deemed unsuitable for consumption due to high levels of heavy metals such as Mercury, PCBs, pesticides and other dangerous chemicals. Turtles are much longer-lived than fish, and therefore stand to accumulate many more toxins in their tissue over a lifetime, potentially posing a major health risk to the families who are purchasing their meat. Key points: Export data confirms that more than 250,000 wild-caught turtles were shipped out of D/FW airport alone from 2002 to 2005. This kind of harvest is unsustainable based on turtle biology. Very few young turtles survive to adulthood and those that do are late to mature sexually. Turtle populations make up for their losses by living a long time (50-70 years in some cases) and producing young each year. Removing large, mature females from the population - which fetch the most money - is devastating to populations. The traps that are used are often dangerous for not only turtles, but other species as well. When not used correctly, there is a high risk of drowning for any animals that enter the traps. Currently four species of non-marine turtles in Texas are protected. However, given that many species look similar to one another, there is a potential for misidentification when large shipments of turtles are being sent out of the state. In essence, under the current regulations, there is a potential for protected turtles to be harvested simply because they are getting mixed in with the large numbers of non-protected species. It is irresponsible to continue to allow the harvest of Texas turtles for food markets given the potential of contamination and the health risk to the humans that consume them. Texas currently has some of the most lenient regulations in the country in regard to the commercial harvest of turtles. Given the fact that Asian turtle populations have been virtually eliminated in just 15 to 20 years, it is only reasonable to assume that Texas turtle populations would face the same fate when subjected to the same levels of harvest. The Good News! The Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission (TPWC) has taken a huge step toward banning the commercial harvest of all wild turtles in Texas. In April, the commissioners moved to propose a complete ban, which is now posted for review and available for public comment. However, the TPWC is under considerable pressure from commercial interests to not uphold this ban. Allowing the continued commercial collection of red-eared sliders, softshells and snapping turtles from private waters is being considered. However, there is no way to distinguish a turtle trapped in private waters from one trapped in public waters - making this is an unenforceable decision that will continue to drain populations from public waters. Once private stock ponds are cleared, collectors will most likely turn to public areas such as rivers and streams. On May 23 and 24, the commissioners will meet again and will review the comments that they have received. This is where you come in! Please click here by May 23 and let the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission know that you agree with this critical piece of legislation! While you're there, feel free to include some of the key points that you feel most passionately about and please congratulate the commission for taking action on this conservation crisis. Please also forward this message to friends who are passionate about protecting Texas' wildlife. If the link to make a public comment does not work, cut and paste: http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/business/feedback/publ... into your web browser.