SAMUEL: You can’t keep salamanders, turtles, or snakes in West Virginia

In most states the laws on the possession of snakes, turtles, or salamanders have lots of exceptions.  In some states you can keep some species of salamanders or turtles as pets.  In some states you can do that, but you need permits.  The laws vary, and are changing in recent years, so before picking up a snake or turtle, you need to check the laws for your state.  

West Virginia has a reputation of being last in most things, such as education, jobs, environmental laws, etc.  But when it comes to native reptiles (snakes, turtles) and amphibians, (salamanders) I’d rate us at the very top.   As of May 27 it is unlawful to take or possess most native reptiles and amphibians in West Virginia for any reason.  

When we were kids, keeping a turtle we found in the back yard was not big deal.  Catching salamanders for fish bait was common.  Killing a copperhead or rattlesnake in the back yard was something most people did.  We did those things without a thought.  

Things change.  Today, the market in Europe for turtles, such as box turtles, is huge.  It is an industry.  The same is true for some species of snakes, and some species of salamanders.  The cost to purchase these critters is not a limiting factor.  People want them, and money is not going to prevent that.  But state laws can, and West Virginia has taken a big step to stop such sales.  

We now have regulations that prohibit the taking and possessing of 26 salamander species, 13 frog and toad species, six lizard species, 23 snake species and 12 turtle species.  Many of what we classify as “common” species of salamanders, are now off limits.  Frogs and toads that we classify as “common”, such as the American toad and spring peepers are now protected.  Lizards such as the common five-lined skink are now protected.  

Green snakes are protected.  Garter snakes are protected.  Just the other day a neighbor sent me a picture of a baby copperhead that her yard guys killed.  She wanted my thoughts on the identity of the snake.  I can’t begin to tell you how many queen and garter snakes are killed by people who think they are copperheads.  This garter snake was no exception and she was going to inform her yard guys to leave snakes alone.  We all need to do that because all snakes in West Virginia are protected, as they should be. 

I can hear people complain about such laws.  I have a rattlesnake in my yard where kids play.  Well, first of all, what you have is probably a harmless snake.  But even it is a rattlesnake, it’s probably lived in the vicinity for several years without being seen.  And now that you’ve seen it, just let it alone and everything will be fine.  Bashing it with a rock is no longer legal.  

There are some exceptions to the new reptile and amphibian regulations.  With written permission from the DNR, one can take and possess bullfrogs, green frogs, snapping turtles and eastern spiny softshell turtles.  The reason is that people consume these species, so they still can do so.  And for those with rattlesnakes they want to move, they can do so under the new regulation.  If you find a rattler in your basement, you can kill or move it.  If you find a poisonous snake in your garden, you can kill or move it.  

And if you had a protected species as a pet before May 23, 2021, you can get a letter from the DNR to maintain possession of that animal for the rest of its life.  

It’s about time we were first in something.  Hats off to our DNR for making these regulations happen.  Other states will follow, because it’s the way to protect these species.