The collapse of Asian turtle populations led to the creation of a worldwide freshwater turtle market in the 1990s. Texas is one of several states in the United States that has capitalized on this market. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) recently instituted regulations designed to protect turtles from commercial harvest in public waters. Two counties in the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV) accounted for 66.1% of known wild turtle harvest in 1999, with no reported harvest in subsequent years. We sampled 60 sites in the LRGV to determine if we could detect harvest effects. We also investigated the potential for sustainable harvest under the new harvest guidelines using source-sink dynamics implemented in a Geographic Information System (GIS) approach. We detected differences congruent with harvest effects for red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta) and Texas spiny softshells (Apalone spinifera). Based on a GIS analysis of water bodies throughout the entire state, we estimated that only 2.2% of water bodies are protected under the current commercial harvest regulations. We determined source water bodies could supply 30.5% of sink water bodies in the LRGV, and we concluded that long-term sustainable turtle harvest is unlikely under the current management regime due to the intensity of commercial harvests, the low number of protected water bodies, and non-robust or non-interactive protected populations. One solution to this would be modification of the regulations to include season and bag limits, a management strategy currently implemented in various forms by 14 states in the eastern half of the United States.
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Vol. 75 • No. 3