Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program:
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources


Strategic confiscation and placement of illegally collected turtles for maximizing conservation outcomes

August 2021 - July 2024


Participating Agencies

The US Fish and Wildlife Service, working with state and federal agencies with regulatory authority over turtles in the northeastern U.S., makes decisions about the confiscation and disposition of multiple species of turtles encountered via legal and extra-legal trade routes. Illegal collection of wild animals for the pet trade has resulted in population declines (Stanford et al. 2020), and U.S. freshwater turtles are particularly vulnerable to illegal collection (Mali et al 2014). Decision-makers wish to maximize the conservation status of turtle populations in the wild, which are declining (or locally extirpated) in part because of illegal harvest, but also because of other threats such as climate change, urbanization, and disease. The decision is complicated by risk to both individuals and populations, primarily of the disease and genetic (i.e., originating-recipient population mismatch) status of confiscated turtles. Here, we propose to use tools from decision analysis and population viability analysis to frame and address this problem. We will use wood turtles as a case study, as a model species listed under Appendix II of CITES (at risk for extinction given current levels of trade). The USFWS and partners will use this analysis as a basis for expanding this case study for other turtle species of trade concern (spotted turtles, eastern box turtles, Blanding’s turtles, and diamondback terrapins). The analysis and approach we propose will improve coordination in repatriating or releasing confiscated turtles to the wild.