Van Drew-Whelan-Lesniak Bill to Protect Species of Turtle Clears Committee

Trenton

 Currently Designated As Species of Special Concern

TRENTON –Legislation sponsored by Senators Jeff Van Drew, Jim Whelan, and Raymond J. Lesniak to protect diamondback terrapins was approved today by the Senate Environment and Energy Committee.

 “We must protect diamondback terrapins and ensure their future survival in an effort to preserve New Jersey’s wildlife,” said Senator Van Drew (D-Atlantic/Cape May/Cumberland). “Years of harvesting have increased the risk of these species declining in population. Designating terrapins as non-hunting species for protection is the right thing to do.”

New Jersey is one of the few states that still allows harvesting of diamondback terrapins, according to a recent report in the Press of Atlantic City. This year, the season was cut short by the state due to concerns about illegal harvesting, the newspaper reported. The bill, S-2615, would designate the diamondback terrapin as a nongame indigenous species, subject to laws, rules and regulations according to the “The Endangered and Nongame Species Conservation Act.” Under the bill, it would no longer be legal to catch or take diamondback terrapins in New Jersey. It would also require that the Commissioner of Environmental Protection conduct biological and ecological data research on the State’s diamondback terrapin population and determine measures to ensure the conservation of the species’ population.

“The health of the diamondback terrapin population is at risk in the state and it is not just harvesting but also roadway killings by motorists that is cause for concern,” said Senator Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic). “It is important that we put additional measures in place to ensure their protection. This bill does just that by prohibiting catching activities and increasing research and monitoring to help sustain the species’ population.”

“Monitoring the diamondback terrapin species is a smart investment for the future of the species,” said Senator Lesniak (D-Union). “Through this bill, the research conducted by the Commissioner can keep the public up to date as to their whereabouts and numbers. The data from the research would also provide us with the background information needed to create efforts that would better ensure their protection.”

Diamondback Terrapins are native to New Jersey and inhabit the State’s coastal salt marshes and estuaries along the AtlanticCoast and Delaware Bay. Habitat loss and road mortality pose major threats to the health of the population. Each year, hundreds of terrapins are killed by motor vehicles, particularly in summer months when females actively search for suitable nest sites. This bill would help to encourage conservation of the species and its habitats.

The bill was approved with a vote of 5-0. It now heads to the Senate for consideration.