LAS VEGAS (AP) — Nevada is considering imposing restrictions on reptile collectors after figures show nearly a half-million creatures have been removed from the state in the past 30 years.
All the states bordering Nevada prohibit unlimited commercial collection of reptiles, but until now, the Silver State has set no limits.
Nevada is weighing recommendations that include a blanket ban of reptile collection, or limiting commercial collection based on species, breeding season and geography, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.
Jason Jones, a herpetologist with the state Wildlife Department, said data from collectors’ logs show the return is not as good as it once was, and hunters must spend more days in the field to gather enough reptiles. Those anecdotes suggest reptile populations are dwindling, Jones said.
“If you have to work harder, usually that means the things you’re seeking are maybe not as abundant anymore,” he said.
The wildlife commission will hear recommendations at its Sept. 22 meeting, the first step in a process that includes public workshops before a decision is made. A blanket ban would not prevent hobbyists from collecting reptiles for themselves as pets but would forbid the sale and barter of captured reptiles.
Thomas L. Bentz said he spends about 230 days a year collecting reptiles throughout rural Nevada, earning about $30,000 annually.
Much of his collection is near rural roads, he said. The Southern Nevada spots where he found the animals as a child have dissipated as development has increased, Bentz said.
He said he gets only the reptiles needed by his distributor and is sure to send the creatures out healthy.
“What changes my numbers is whether a dirt road gets washed out or not,” said Bentz, whose business is called the Silver State Reptile Propagation and Research Institute.
An outright ban threatens Bentz’s livelihood, but he said he neither needs nor wants unlimited reptile collection. There are fewer than 10 collectors statewide in Nevada, and state permits to collect are given to people, not companies. Bentz said nothing prevents a large-scale company from hiring dozens of people and exploiting the system on a large scale.
Collectors pay $250 for a permit, must live in Nevada and must submit monthly logs of the species, sex and age of their catch.
Bentz said he sent a proposal to state wildlife officials that would limit the collecting season to April 1 to July 31, limit collections of individual species and impose a daily bag limit of no more than 100 reptiles.
Complicating the issue is the discovery of more than 700 illegal pitfall traps in the Mojave Desert.
They’re built by burying a 5-gallon bucket and covering it with plywood, with the rim at ground level. Animals crawl under the wood looking for shade and fall into the bucket.
It is legal to capture reptiles only by hand or a noose.
A reptile collector took responsibility for pitfall traps at the August meeting, saying that they are for collecting scorpions, not reptiles, Jennifer Newmark, administrator of wildlife diversity for the Nevada Department of Wildlife, said. Regardless of the intent, the traps are a “huge source of mortality” for reptiles and small mammals, Newmark said.
State wildlife officials note that other factors have affected Nevada’s reptile population, including decline of habitat, invasive species, climate change and increased development.