The spiny softshell turtle is harvested primarily for food. An average softshell weighs about 6 pounds. (Fred Janzen/Iowa State University)

DES MOINES – Turtles in Iowa would be subject to commercial and recreational seasons and daily catch limits designed to protect them during their nesting season under preliminary rules the state Department of Natural Resources presented to a legislative panel on Tuesday.

DNR deputy director Bruce Trautman said the proposed rules – based on legislation passed last session – would permit commercial and recreational hunting of spiny softshell, smooth softshell, and painted turtles from July 16 to May 14.

The state rules would permit commercial hunting of common snapping turtles from July 16 to May 14 and recreational hunting year-round, and would set daily catch limits of four common snapping turtles, one spiny softshell or smooth softshell turtle, and one painted turtle. Also, the rules set commercial possession limits of 20 common snapping turtles, five spiny softshell or smooth softshell turtles, and five painted turtles.

Trautman said the proposal was designed to find a balance between the 60 or so Iowans who are licensed to harvest turtles commercially and conservationists who advocate for a complete shutdown of commercial turtle trapping similar to Iowa’s surrounding states. Currently, Iowa is one of a few states that allow commercial trappers to catch an unlimited number of certain turtles.

“Right now we feel like we’ve landed in the right place. We’ve used the data that’s available,” he said. “We feel we’ve got a reasonable rule out there.”

State officials 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.

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In 2015, Trautman said there were 101 commercial harvesters in Iowa who caught 10,210 turtles with a wholesale value of $53,845. Industry representatives argued the proposed restrictions would force them out of business, however, committee member Dawn Pettengill, R-Mount Auburn, told Trautman “it looks like you did exactly what we told you to do” in House File 2357.

If the proposal proceeds through the rule-making process, Trautman said he anticipated they would take effect for the next harvest season.

Also Tuesday, the legislative panel did not object to changes adopted by the state Environmental Protection Commission for rules on animal feeding operations. The revised rules would allow solids from open feedlot operations to be regulated by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship as bulk dry animal nutrient products.

The EPC-adopted rules also included a revised definition of a “public use area” which require confinement setbacks, as well as an updated listing of Iowa lakes, a clarification regarding which structures are to be used for measuring separation distances, and additional language regarding permit requirements to be consistent with federal regulations.

Critics opposed a rule that enabled livestock producers with older facilities to seek emergency application of manure to frozen or saturated ground because they've run out of storage and a separate loophole to allow producers to build small pig facilities near each other to avoid oversight, but no one attended Tuesday’s legislative meeting to speak against the rules.

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Statehouse reporter for The Courier

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