Typically there are a lot of creatures on West Virginia’s wild, wonderful landscape which go unnoticed. However, they are a vital link in the state’s ecosystem and unfortunately they are starting to be noticed for the wrong reasons.
Reptiles and amphibians are becoming big business overseas and West Virginia is fertile ground for those who stand to make big money on the black market.
“Some of those are very popular in the pet trade, like the wood turtle,” said Barb Sargent Coordinator of the DNR’s Natural Heritage Program. “We had a bust in Hampshire County in 2008 where the folks they busted had around $250,000 worth of reptiles and amphibians and most of those were wood turtles.”
Sargent said the reptiles and amphibians typically are colllected and taken to Florida or other port areas and shipped either to Europe or Asia where they command a hefty price.
“They’re being collected illegally and sold to Asia,” she said. “In Asia they’ve pretty much already destroyed their entire turtle population. So now, they’re having to come to the United States and Canada to take ours.”
New regulations proposed to the Natural Resouces Commission aimed to put a dent in the practice.
The DNR recommended a limit on some species and “no-take” status for others during their recent presentation to the commission. The rules are now out for public review.
The “No-Take” list of reptiles would be: wood turtle, spotted turtle, northern map turtle, Ouachita map turtle, midland smooth softshell turtle.
The Amphibian “No-Take” list includes: eastern hellbender, mudpuppy, Cheat Mountain Salamander–which is already endangered, Cowl Knob salamander, Shenandoah Mountain salamander, smallmouth salamander, streamside salamander, green salamander, cave salamander, West Virginia spring salamander, eastern spadefoot toad, northern cricket frog, and northern leopard frog.
Other species like the bullfrog, green frog, snapping turtle, and the spiney softshell will for the first time have limits. You have a daily limit of 10 and a possession limit of 20.
Snakes are another matter. Under the proposed rules, you would be allowed to capture and have in your possession one rattlesnake–which must be at least 42″ in length and one copperhead.
“Some people just want them as pets,” Sargent said. “Rattlesnakes and copperheads are really popular in the pet trade here in the United State as well as in Europe and Asia.”
The 42″ minimum on the rattlesnake, according to Sargent, will largely insure the snakes kept are males and would offer protection to female rattlers.
She added, in all seriousness, the practice of snake handling in church was a consideration.
“At first we had the copperhead and rattlesnake on the no-take list and we realized we were infringing on religious rights,” said Sargent. “So decided you could have one of each snake.”
The entire exercise is aimed at not only protecting West Virginia’s wildlife–but that of other states as well. Sargent said most of the critters identified in the rule changes are already struggling with habitat loss and water quality problems. She said the rule change would at least give them relief from yet another another serious threat.
“West Virginia was the black hole. All of the states around us have regs and we didn’t,” she said. “People could come here and collect or they could collect in other states and if they got caught they could say, ‘Well we caught that in West Virginia.’ If they can’t prove it, they can’t prove it and we didn’t have any laws to say they broke the law here.”
The amphibian and reptile regulations will be part of the package of regulation changes out for public comment at the upcoming Sportsmen Sectional meetings and will be considered for approval by the Natural Resources Commission next month.