For love of turtles — Local community joins forces with Land Trust

Oh, the things I have learned through two years of working with the Turtle Road Mortality Mitigation project!  I have learned, for example, that snapping turtles can climb a chain link fence, and that some turtle species don’t reach reproductive maturity until they are 20 years of age. I have learned that 7 out of 8 Ontario turtle species are classified as “Species at Risk”, and that lots of people care enough about this fact to do something about it.

Tucked up underneath Algonquin Park on the Canadian Shield, the Haliburton Highlands is a region of abundant lakes, rivers, wetlands and forests, and is home to a diversity of plant and animal species. It is also home to a citizenry who are committed to caring for this natural world, and are willing to offer their valuable time and effort towards this goal. From all walks of life and with an age range of 8 – 88, experienced naturalists and novices alike, volunteer citizen scientists have stepped up and committed over 4,200 hours of volunteer time over the past two turtle nesting seasons (May and June) to assist as “Turtle Monitors”.

Turtles play an important role in the biodiversity of our landscape, helping to maintain the health of the wetlands. But without human intervention, they’re in real trouble.

Turtle1

Figure 1. Mitigation design showing both the underpass and barrier wall.

The primary threat to turtle populations is the ever-increasing network of roads, which fragment habitats.  Traffic on these roads endangers turtles as they move across the landscape in search of mates, as well as nesting, feeding and hibernation sites.  This project was conceived to test out a unique mitigation strategy for turtle road mortality. The method combines a barrier wall with an underpass to allow turtles to access adjoining wetlands without travelling on the road surface (Figure 1).

Figure 2. Snapping turtle pictured moving through the underpass to access the adjacent wetland.

Figure 2. Snapping turtle pictured moving through the underpass to access the adjacent wetland.

More than 180 volunteers have helped to monitor how turtles respond to the barrier wall/underpass design, with the final field season coming to a close in June 2016. Preliminary results from 2015 are hopeful and suggest that the barrier wall reduces the overall number of turtles on the road. Turtles have also been observed using the underpass to move between the adjacent wetlands (Figure 2).

For more information on the project, or to find out how you can help, see: www.haliburtonlandtrust.ca.

 

 

The Turtle Road Mortality Project is being conducted by Haliburton Highlands Land Trust and its partners, Glenside Ecological Services Limited and U-Links Centre for Community-Based Research. It is funded by the Ministry of Natural Resources & Forestry, Species at Risk Fund.

 Contributed by Heather Deveaux, Haliburton Highlands Land Trust

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