Nevada bans commercial reptile collection

By Kaitlyn Miller

©NPS/Robb Hannawacker

On Sep. 23, the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners voted 6-1 to ban the commercial collection of reptiles in Nevada. After Jan. 1, 2018, the state will no longer allow the unrestricted take of reptiles for private profit.

As noted in a presentation to the board by Jason Jones, the herpetologist for the Wildlife Diversity Division of the Nevada Department of Wildlife, there have been population declines in the top eight species of reptiles collected, including the chuckwalla (Sauromalus ater) and desert-horned lizard (Phrynosoma platyrhinos). These eight species make up 98% of the reptiles collected by commercial collectors. Over the last 30 years, commercial collectors have reported removing more than 420,000 reptiles from Nevada. Nevada Department of Wildlife data suggest that reptile density may be decreasing in places that have been heavily collected from, and the impacts of collecting are spreading to previously unexploited areas.

On Sep. 21 a group of nearly 50 scientists sent a letter to the Board of Wildlife Commissioners encouraging the ban. The letter highlighted the essential role reptiles play in the desert ecosystem. “These snakes and lizards are an important part of the desert food web, consuming insects and other invertebrates while acting as prey for mid- to upper-level predators.” Globally, climate change, overexploitation, and habitat loss are leading to localized extinctions and then broader declines in reptiles populations. According to a memo from Jennifer Newmark, the Wildlife Diversity Division Administrator at the Nevada Department of Wildlife, the unlimited commercial collection of reptiles is particularly concerning for a variety of reasons including: the low dispersal ability of reptiles due to habitat and temperature constraints; the collection of reptiles year round includes reproductive time periods, which reduces reproductive output; and the collection itself is an added source of mortality to individual reptiles.

Until this ban goes into effect, Nevada will continue to be the only state in the region that allows for unrestricted take for commercial collection. Utah, Arizona, Idaho (with one exception on private land), and California all prohibit the commercial collection of reptiles in their states. New Mexico and Texas, both allow some commercial collection, but it is regulated. Nevada will continue to allow the regulated take of reptiles for hobby collecting.

Before the new regulation is permanently adopted the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners will host a public workshop and second hearing. In the meantime wildlife officials have stopped issuing new permits and will not renew annual permits.

Read TWS’ Standing Positions on The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and Conserving Biological Diversity.

Kaitlyn Miller is a policy intern at The Wildlife Society as part of the Wildlife Policy and Programs team. Read more of Kaitlyn's articles here.