Saving Iowa’s Wild Turtles

Iowa Rivers Revival helped to lead the discussion resulting in changes being put in place to help save Iowa’s wild turtle population by working with key legislators to introduce legislation that required the DNR to protect the resource for the future. Records show that nearly 33% of turtles are harvested commercially during the nesting season — a crucial period for reproduction and species survival.

A protective season will allow populations to stabilize — and possibly reverse — their downward trend, and achieve long-term sustainability. This action benefits turtles, the complex ecosystem of which they are a part, as well as the citizens who want to see turtles in the wild, and even those who harvest turtles.

2016 Iowa Acts, House File 2357 (HF 2357), signed by Governor Branstad on March 23, 2016, specifically instructs the Commission to adopt rules establishing commercial and recreational seasons and daily catch limits on turtles.  Iowa law requires the Commission, in partnership with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), to manage the state’s turtle population for posterity.  Many surrounding Midwest states have determined their turtle populations can only be sustainably managed by entirely closing commercial harvest (e.g., North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Illinois, and Indiana). The Commission considered this approach. However, as an interim measure and pending the results of HF 2357’s five-year study, the Commission has instead determined that commercial and recreational harvest can continue so long as egg-laying females are protected during most of their nesting season and with restrictive daily catch and possession limits.

  • A harvest season and catch limits will help protect Iowa’s harvestable turtle breeding populations and the survival of these sensitive species.
  • The harvest season for spiny softshell, smooth softshell and painted turtles is open now until May 14. It will be closed after that date and reopen again on July 16, 2017.
  • The commercial common snapping turtle season is open now until May 14. It will be closed after that date and reopen again on July 16, 2017. The recreational common snapping turtle season is open all year.
  • Daily catch limits for commercial and recreational harvest of common snapping turtles is four. Commercial and recreational turtle harvesters can catch one spiny softshell or one smooth softshell and one painted turtle each day.
  • Commercial turtle harvesters can possess 20 common snapping turtles, five spiny softshell or smooth softshell turtles and five painted turtles.
  • Turtle eggs cannot be taken from wild nests. Turtles cannot be harvested from traps set before midnight on July 15. Turtle harvesters cannot sort, cull, high-grade, or replace any turtle in their possession.
  • A weather-resistant gear tag with name, address and license number of the licensee must be attached above the waterline to each turtle trap set by a commercial turtle harvester. All turtle traps must be set with the top of the trap visible above the waterline and must be checked and emptied of catch at least one every 72 hours. When a turtle trap is checked, turtles can be taken into possession, up to the daily catch limit, or released immediately.
Skip to content