The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

July 9, 2013

New Berlin Turtle Derby

---- — I was pleased to read in the July 5 article "19 racing turtles sidelined in New Berlin" that the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission enforced the state's wildlife protection laws by banning wood and eastern box turtles from competing at New Berlin's annual turtle derby.

Before last year's race, the state agency told the event's sponsor that state law prohibits wild collection of these rare turtles. Despite this warning (which received extensive media coverage), about half of the turtles brought to this year's event were illegally collected.

Many people mistakenly believe that no harm is done as long as turtles are released back into the wild after the races. But races can expose turtles to deadly diseases, which then can spread to wild populations when turtles are released. Of particular concern is ranavirus, which has been confirmed in Pennsylvania in wild eastern box turtles, a popular yet illegal entrant for New Berlin's race.

Our nation's turtles are now dying off at alarming rates never-before seen, and turtle races strain native turtle populations that are already under terrible pressure from habitat loss, road kill and other threats. While many of the threats facing wild turtles are difficult problems to solve, the threat posed by turtle races has an easy fix: just stop using wild caught turtles.

Many small towns across the country have replaced their turtle races with festivals that use creative substitutes for wild caught turtles, such as river races using rubber turtles. Other races bring in turtles from turtle farms, to which the turtles are returned.

I understand that New Berlin's turtle race is a longstanding tradition that provides an opportunity for family fun in the outdoors. That tradition can continue but it should not involve wild caught turtles.

We need to do what's best for our turtles, before it's too late.

Collette Adkins Giese, Minneapolis, Minn.