Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Disappearing Wildlife

When I talk about wildlife, you don't think, of course, of those ordinary little stream dwellers we take for granted. Next time you see a bunch of ordinary turtles sunning on a log, appreciate it. Those are disappearing as much as the cougar is. His main competition is trapping for foreign markets, in the Dallas area.

I recall when little turtles were sold in the five and dime, many with painted designs on their shells. To my knowledge, I never have eaten one. But as sources of food disappear, those common stream turtles are being harvested for markets that are not regulated.

Of course, for the past eight years of regulations being ignored by holders of high office who thought their oaths of office didn't apply to them, turtles might have been on the menu without my realizing it.

Turtles, lions of the region's water kingdom, once ruled the Trinity River. Now, plastic foam take-out boxes and grocery-store bags settle on logs along the river's Elm Fork and nestle on its muddy banks.The culprits for the turtles' demise aren't tossed-aside soda bottles as much as dedicated hunters who have spent years dredging up whole populations from the river, wildlife officials say. And some environmentalists fear those turtles – sickly from years of pollution – are being sold to local Asian markets and shipped overseas as a toxic delicacy.

Studies on freshwater turtles are rare, so the river's regulars are also its experts.

While canoeing the river 15 years ago, Charles Allen says he spotted rows of sunbathing red-eared sliders and soft-shell turtles. Now, the Trinity tour guide said he's lucky if he sees two or three in a quarter-mile.

"I believe it's because of trapping – some legal, but most illegal," he said, rowing tentatively down the patchy-green river in search of a fading few.

A 2007 Texas Parks & Wildlife Department regulation was supposed to stop the depletion by banning commercial turtle harvesting in public waters. But turtle enthusiasts say a loophole in the measure – which still allows collection of three species in private waters – leaves murky boundaries and lax enforcement. The result puts humans and the ecosystem at risk.

"This is about health and conservation," said Carl Franklin of the Amphibian and Reptile Diversity Research Center at the University of Texas at Arlington. Like many researchers, he worries about the elimination of turtles from a biosphere that depends on them. The dearth of any species leads to an imbalance that places other animals and plants at risk.
Those in favor of a complete ban say they're most concerned about major exporters like "Bayou Bob" Popplewell, a dealer from near Santo who exported hundreds of thousands of turtles abroad before the ban, according to U.S. Fish & Wildlife records.

Popplewell, who runs Bayou Bob's Brazos River Rattlesnake Ranch, has hosted seminars on catching "turtles for cash" and trained hunters on the methods of tortoise capture. He was arrested last year for selling alcohol without a license. He was marketing his rattlesnake-enhanced vodka as an ancient Asian elixir.

Popplewell did not return calls for comment.

The dwindling supply of freshwater turtles in Asia has likely factored into demand for U.S. turtles.

A recent study by Traffic, a wildlife trade monitoring network, found that unregulated trade in Indonesia has led to the virtual annihilation of Southeast Asian box turtles, another freshwater reptile.

The turtle demand has also picked up in North Texas, said Eric Chen, who sells them at his Asia World Market in Plano.

There are some very nice Asian restaurants in Plano that I enjoy.

While I wouldn't choose to eat a turtle that grew up in the runoff we see along the Trinity River, I used to think that when I bought something in a store, it was safe because of our laws. Now I am aware that that just isn't the case.

As the world's population outruns its resources, I am increasingly glad of my little garden. Maybe a little pond would fit right in? A nice, clean pond.

Below is my garden last June.

I can see a place for a nice pond.

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Blogger Fraud Guy said...

We have a dry pond in a corner of our lot, and a creek running behind my home, with about a 400' stretch bordering the back of my lot.

We clean it, police it, and keep it well stocked with various plants and hiding spots for wildlife, and have been rewarded with ducks, woodchucks, owls, foxes, and squirrels and chipmunks.

Any tips for increasing the population?

7:10 PM  
Blogger Ruth said...

Lovely, and I have seen deer tracks on the back of my place by the stream a very few times too. I would make sure you plant things they like, such as hackberries, some strawberries and pecans, maybe an oak. Hope you take pictures when you can, too.

2:48 AM  

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