Moving Turtles and Other Wildlife Due to Drought

Red-eared Slider - Trachemys scripta (CDFW photo by Dave Feliz)

Red-eared Slider – Trachemys scripta (CDFW photo by Dave Feliz)

Question: I live in San Luis Obispo and have a quick question regarding relocating three baby turtles. My wife and I have visited this small pond for quite some time, and due to the drought we are afraid that the turtles will die due to the pond getting smaller and smaller. We know that the California turtle is in danger to become extinct due to the red-eared turtle influx here in California. I need to know if I need a permit to move them off of state land. (Kevin M., SLO)

Answer: While it’s natural to want to help, moving animals is not only illegal, it is potentially detrimental, and your good intentions could have very bad consequences. According to California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Statewide Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Coordinator Laura Patterson, many animals, including some turtles, have a natural homing instinct and will not stay where they are transplanted. They may be carrying diseases or parasites that could impact the animals at the release site.

In addition, transplanted animals may be genetically different, and interbreeding with the existing population could produce offspring less adapted to local conditions. At the very least we know that in times like these with very limited resources, they will now compete with the animals already existing at the site, resulting in even worse overcrowding and potentially lowering survival and reproductive success even more than would have happened from the drought conditions.

By law you can take only non-native turtles with a California sport fishing license (California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 5.6), but release into the wild or relocation of an animal (native or non-native) requires a permit from CDFW. In the case of aquatic turtles, the law says it is unlawful to place, plant or cause to be placed or planted, in any of the waters of this state, any live fish, any fresh or salt water animal, or any aquatic plant, whether taken without or within the state, without first submitting it for inspection to, and securing the written permission of, the department (Fish and Game Code, section 6400).

The situation you describe is very unfortunate, but all of California is experiencing a severe to exceptional drought, and many ponds and creeks have already gone dry or are expected to dry by summer’s end throughout the state. This is affecting the state’s wildlife, including many native species that are listed as endangered or threatened under state or federal law.


Abalone and scuba gear?
Question: If I’m out spearfishing with scuba gear, can I leave the scuba gear in the boat to also free dive for abalone? (Anonymous)

Answer: No. Sport divers are prohibited from using scuba or other surface-supplied air equipment to take abalone, and they cannot possess abalone on board any boat, vessel, or floating device in the water containing scuba or surface-supplied air. There is no problem transporting abalone and scuba gear together while on land. Divers working from boats, kayaks, float tubes or other floating devices who wish to use scuba equipment to spear fish or harvest sea urchins, rock scallops or crabs of the genus Cancer, will need to make a separate trip for abalone.


Shooting across a public road with a bow and arrow?
Question: The law says that you cannot shoot across a public road with a firearm or hunt within 150 yards of another home or building without permission, but what about archery? What about target shooting with archery? If there is no law in your community, or unincorporated area of a county that prohibits or limits use of archery, and you want to shoot archery for target practice, does the same distance law apply? (James S.)

Answer: The same rules for firearms apply to archery equipment in this case – you may not shoot across a road or within 150 yards of a neighbor’s home, barns or outbuildings – even if just target shooting (Fish and Game Code, section 3004). In addition to shooting across a roadway, this section also makes it unlawful for any person to intentionally release any arrow or crossbow bolt over or across any public roadway open to the public in an unsafe manner. Beyond this, different counties and communities may have more restrictive ordinances that they enforce so you should check with your local law enforcement office for this information.

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Carrie Wilson is a marine environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week in this column. Please contact her at CalOutdoors@wildlife.ca.gov.

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