The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

July 4, 2012

Organizers: Turtles will run (well, race) today

By Marcia Moore
The Daily Item

NEW BERLIN — New Berlin Turtle Derby organizers said the race will go on today despite warnings from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission that participants could be fined.

“We have nothing in writing stating we can’t do this, so we’re going through with it as planned,” said Shirl Hummel, treasurer of the New Berlin Activities Committee.

Registration for the 49th annual turtle derby will be held on the Commons beginning at 9 a.m., and the race will start at 1:30 p.m.

The traditional Fourth of July event that attracts up to 30 kids was nearly scuttled for the first time in decades after Hummel was contacted by a state Fish and Boat Commission officer warning that participants would be breaking the law if they showed up with any species of turtles that may not be removed from their natural habitat because of their declining numbers.

Hummel said she was told that a fine of $250 could be levied against anyone in possession of a protected, threatened or endangered turtle, including box, wood, spotted and Eastern redbelly species. Other turtle species, including Eastern and midland painted, map and Eastern musk, are not on the protected list.

Agency spokesman Eric Levis said no one from the state was scheduled to attend the event and no citations would be issued.

Later, Hummel said, organizers were informed that participants could legally attend the event with box and wood turtle species, but would be cited if they raced them.

Frustrated with the conflicting responses, Hummel and Kay Trick, committee chairwoman for Boy Scouts Troop 508, which sponsors the derby, met Tuesday and decided to hold the race anyway.

“We’ll allow people to race box and wood turtles unless someone is there to stop them,” Hummel said.

Trick, who has helped the troop coordinate the turtle derby since 1988, said it’s the first time the state has intervened.

“The Boy Scouts have done this forever. We want to do the right thing and be good stewards of the land, yet not one person has ever come to us officially,” she said, disputing reports that the state warned organizers last year that the law barred certain species of turtle from being plucked out of their habitat and used in the race. “We’re confused and don’t understand the law.”

None of the turtles have been harmed and the young participants return them to the wild when it’s over, she said.

And, once again, C. Tristan Stayton, an assistant professor in biology at Bucknell University, will be on hand to provide information about the turtles.

“It’s not like we’re making turtle soup,” Trick said. “We’re only educating the public.”