Chances are, West Virginians who collect salamanders for fish bait will stay on the right side of the law — but they’ll need to be careful.
Regulations that went into effect earlier this year outlawed the capture and possession of 26 of the state’s 36 salamander species. They also outlawed the collection of 13 frog and toad species, six lizard species, 23 snake species and 12 turtle species.
Hardly anyone uses frogs and lizards for bait, let alone snakes or turtles. But many anglers use salamanders, often referred to colloquially as “spring lizards.”
On March 31, more than two-thirds of the available species were declared off-limits by a unanimous vote of the West Virginia Natural Resources Commission. Fortunately for anglers, the 10 species still OK for collection are among those most commonly used for bait.
The regulations were put into effect to try to contain a growing illegal trade in reptiles and amphibians. Kevin Oxenrider, a biologist for the Division of Natural Resources’ Natural Heritage Section, said national and international law-enforcement officials have intercepted shipments of thousands of creatures destined for foreign and domestic markets.
“These are the stories you read in the news, but what is typically missed in these stories is the frequency that folks are buying and selling/collecting native species at a smaller scale,” he explained. “The [monetary] motive to collect and sell these animals is there.”
As they determined which salamander species most needed protection, Oxenrider and his fellow DNR biologists tried to accommodate anglers’ ability to collect salamanders for bait.”
“We developed the regulations to be sure to allow anglers to collect the 10 species of salamanders frequently found in the streams and creeks where people look for bait,” Oxenrider said.
Those 10 species include the northern dusky salamander, the seal salamander, the Allegheny dusky salamander, the black-bellied salamander, the Black Mountain salamander, the northern spring salamander, the Kentucky spring salamander, the northern two-lined salamander, the southern two-lined salamander and the eastern long-tailed salamander.
“If you’re out flipping rocks along a creek and you turn up a salamander, chances are you’re finding a species that isn’t on the protected list,” Oxenrider said.
The regulations specify those 10 species of salamander be used only for bait, and they also place limits on the number that can be collected.
“If you’re collecting for your own use, you’re allowed to have up to 10 wild-collected salamanders in your possession,” Oxenrider explained.
“If you buy salamanders from a licensed bait dealer, you’re allowed to have up to 50, but you must be able to produce a bill of sale that shows you purchased them. Bait dealers are allowed to have up to 250 in their possession.”
The regulations prohibit collection along streams located on state parks, state forests, state wildlife management areas and other public lands.
“You can legally possess them on public lands if you bring them there to use as bait, but you can’t collect them there,” Oxenrider said.