The big turtle still lurks in the pond out front of our house. It’s a snapping turtle (Chelydra serpintina) and she’s huge; it’s quite likely she’s also very old. It’s been in the pond, as a large adult, for several years. And like from the start of her occupation, she’s still snapping down and making off with waterfowl.
Snapping turtles eat a wide variety of things including “a surprisingly large amount of vegetation”. Sounds like an omnivore to me. It’s no wonder snapping turtles remain rather abundant (really?) even in areas as highly populated with people and their developments as Ontario.
In Ontario, they’re classified as a ‘Game Amphibian’. If you have a valid fishing licence (either a resident or non-resident) you can catch them ‘by hand or with a box or funnel trap’, according to the hunting regulations (what?). There’s a season for Ontario residents and another for non-residents. The daily bag limit is two and as long as you’ve never caught and kept more than two in one day, you can have up to five in your possession. There are other rules and regulations (of course!) that pertain to your interactions with snapping turtles, but the point I’m making is that since you can harvest them almost everywhere in Ontario, in a season that in many Wildlife Management Units never ends (the open season is all year long), there must be a lot of them around. Right?
However, some believe the present fishing and hunting legislation and regulations don’t do a good job of managing snapping turtles. And, they say, at least in some places, there aren’t many snappers left. Some of these individuals and groups believe snapping turtles should be managed as a ‘Species at Risk’ (SAR); not as a ‘Game Amphibian’.
A big problem is there isn’t a lot known about Ontario’s snapping turtles and the information that’s available is limited in scope. For example, while it’s mandatory to complete a questionnaire if you actually harvest a snapping turtle, not many mandatory questionnaires are submitted. Why? Probably because: A, I suspect not many people who live in or visit Ontario actually harvest snapping turtles (do you know anybody?); and B; for those who do harvest a turtle, it’s unlikely they fill in the form and report it to the provincial government.
“B” is probable because the last time I looked, no one has ever been convicted of the offence of not completing and submitting a mandatory hunt report. That applies not just for snapping turtles, but all mandatory reports about ones’ hunting activities of game animals in Ontario. So even the harvest data that does exist, is suspect.
Aboriginal and Metis, with a few restictions, can harvest snappers without a license and there are no season, catch or possession limits. I suspect that harvest methods are also less restrictive than they are for others.
Still, if snapping turtle populations have declined over time, I’m certain hunting is only one of many potential factors. Because they have a relatively low reproductive rate (the survival rate of all early age classes is dismal), anything that increases the death rate among adults could spell trouble. In some places they might be getting killed because they’re viewed as as a pests and nuisance. It’s common to see them killed owing to collisions with automobiles. Developments that drain marshlands and otherwise harden the landscape don’t do turtles favors.
Probably in some places, there are lots of snapping turtles; other places, not so many. Seems logical.
But the bottom line is no one really knows how many snapping turtles there are in Ontario. Are there a lot? Enough? Not enough? It’s an ongoing battle that has potential for serious repercussions, not only for those who harvest snapping turtles, but for all sorts of human endeavors that require permits to proceed.
It’s busy work, keeping a lot of people occupied, but I don’t think the ongoing discussions are accomplishing a whole lot. On the other hand, it is what governments do.
Meanwhile, I know where there is one really big snapping turtle that’s still up to her old tricks. Out there in the pond, sneakin’ around, snappin’ up waterfowl . . .