Jonathan Crowe

My Correct Views on Everything

Hunting Snapping Turtles in Ontario

Pelee Island Field Trip (2002) The Ontario Nature Blog wonders why it’s okay to hunt snapping turtles in Ontario even though they’re listed as a species of special concern. Answers to their questions from Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) were neither clarifying nor encouraging.

It’s probably best to back up and explain what’s going on here, legally speaking. There are two pieces of provincial legislation at work here: the Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA) and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, 1997 (FWCA).

Under the ESA, snapping turtles are listed as a species of special concern — the least at-risk category of endangered species. The ESA says that a species of special concern “is not endangered or threatened, but may become threatened or endangered because of a combination of biological characteristics and identified threats” (s. 5) and directs that a management plan for the species be drawn up (s. 12). It’s actually not illegal under the ESA to kill or possess a species of special concern; on the other hand, it is illegal to do so with an endangered or threatened species.

On the other hand, the FWCA, which deals with fishing, hunting and trapping, lists wildlife in one of three categories: furbearing, game, or specially protected. Snapping turtles are a game reptile — so far, they’re the only game reptile (most reptiles are specially protected). The difference between “game” and “specially protected” is not great: the provisions that prohibit the killing, keeping or trade in specially protected wildlife also prohibit it for game wildlife. The only real difference is hunting licences for game wildlife: you can get a licence to hunt snapping turtles (game), but not to hunt painted turtles (specially protected).

And as far as I can tell, animals are listed as game wildlife only if they’re actually eaten by human beings. People eat snapping turtles; they don’t tend to eat skinks. (People also eat other turtles, but not necessarily other Ontario species, which are considerably smaller, and specially protected in any event.)

If I’m not mistaken, the MNR could, if they decided to, shut down the snapping turtle hunt through regulations — i.e., set the bag limit to zero. That they haven’t done so is, I think, worth hollering about. I don’t think any turtle take is sustainable at this point, for any species, anywhere.

But the point I’m trying to make here is that being listed as a game species under the FWCA does not necessarily mean it’s open season on that species. And being listed as a species of special concern under the ESA does not afford as much protection as you might think.