Should potentially harmful foreign frogs and turtles be allowed into the country? That’s the question the California Fish & Game Commission can’t seem to answer with any finality.
Defenders worked hard last year with our conservation colleagues to put a ban in place on imported frogs and turtles, arguing that these invasive species threaten public health and biodiversity. But less than a year later, the Commission has made an about face and will again allow these non-native animals to be imported.
In early February, the California Fish & Game Commission voted to repeal a ban on imports of non-native frogs and turtles that would have helped control the spread of disease and protect native wildlife populations. After listening to testimony (watch a video of the hearing here, jump to 3:45:00 of the February 3rd meeting), the Commission decided to rescind its own decision directing the state Department of Fish & Game to stop issuing permits for the importation of these animals.
The debate has now become mired unnecessarily in the politics of a growing exotic pet trade industry and cultural traditions practiced by a small minority who eat frogs and turtles. Some importers claim that the ban is an assault on their cultural heritage, while others see it as a threat to their business.
The Department of Fish & Game tried taking another tack, however, saying that importation posed no real threat to the state’s natural resources. However, research has shown that more than five million amphibians are imported each year and that many of these species are a clear threat to native endangered populations. Many of the imported animals are captured in the wild and sold as exotic pets, putting tremendous pressure on dwindling frog and turtle populations around the world. Others come from unregulated captive breeding facilities that can spread virulent forms of disease such as the deadly chytrid fungus and Rana virus.
California imports a very large percentage of the amphibians and turtles that come into the United States, so it’s critical that the state take a lead role in addressing ongoing threats from the import of non-native species. One third of amphibians, in particular, are at risk of extinction as worldwide populations are in severe decline. Bringing large numbers of these animals into the country every year without tight controls only jeopardizes the future of our own native species.
The state should be focused on protecting its natural resources for all its citizens, not just preserving the rights of a few Californians to enjoy a culinary delicacy or defending the profits of the exotic pet industry.