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April 29, 2014

MADISON - With Wisconsin's 11 turtle species soon starting their journey to higher ground to lay their eggs, state turtle conservation officials are calling on motorists to slow down by wetlands and report all turtle road crossing hot spots to aid conservation measures for the turtles.

"One of the greatest threats to turtles in Wisconsin is road mortality -- too many turtles are killed when they cross roadways to reach upland sites where they lay their eggs," says Andrew Badje, a conservation biologist with the Department of Natural Resources. "Luckily, it's a threat we can correct and proactively fix.

"We're asking for citizens' help in identifying hazardous turtle crossing so we can team up with road maintenance agencies to make these roads safer for turtles, people, and other wildlife."

Citizens can report the hazardous crossings by filling out an online reporting form or by printing and mailing in a form. Both can be accessed through the web pages of the Wisconsin Turtle Conservation Program (exit DNR), a citizen-based monitoring initiative managed by the Department of Natural Resources.

DNR launched the initiative last year to help conserve turtles. "Turtles all over, including in Wisconsin, are fighting an uphill battle against many threats," Badje says. "In addition to traffic mortality, habitat loss, fragmentation, and alteration are big threats, as well as newly emerging infectious diseases such as ranavirus, which has decimated populations in the Northeastern United States," he says.

Other dangers to turtles include water pollution, overharvesting of wild populations for food and the pet trade, and egg predation by increasing populations of raccoons, coyotes, opossums, and skunks. Collectively, such threats to turtles mean that many fewer females are living to adulthood and contributing to population growth, Badje says.

Read more about the initiative in an article in the April Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine, "Wisconsin turtle populations at a crossing; How the public is helping them find a safe path to protection."

Last year, hundreds of citizens responded to the call for help in identifying particularly deadly road crossings for turtles. This included DNR helping dedicated citizen conservationists to incorporate turtle road crossing signs at hazardous corridors in the cities of Oregon and Pell Lake.

"The success of the turtle conservation program is beyond anything that could have been imagined within its first few years," he says. "Turtle conservation in Wisconsin is gaining steam and can be credited to its passionate citizens."

While the group's primary goal is to identify and address hazardous turtle crossings, the initiative, the only citizen-based turtle reporting program in the upper Midwest, is much more than a road crossing database, Badje says.

The initiative also allows volunteers to submit photographs of turtles and report general observations and nesting grounds. DNR incorporates the reports into a statewide turtle database to help identify critical nesting grounds, turtle crossing hot spots, and help refine the understanding of the ranges of all species of turtles within the state.

Tips for helping keep turtles safe on the open road

Late May and into August is when people primarily will see turtles out on the roads. To help reduce traffic mortality of turtles, Badje notes that turtles can normally be found near roads that bisect wetlands, lakes, and rivers from the sand-filled uplands or barrens where females lay their eggs. He encourages motorists and others to help conserve turtles by taking a few simple steps:

"Turtles are widely beloved by people all over the world and they are a critical link in the food chain," Badje says. "In some cases they are keystone species, where all other species in the ecosystem rely on them for some form of survival. So let's all do our part and help keep them around and at healthy levels for future generations to enjoy."

Website, wildlife app good sources for more information

Find more information about Wisconsin's turtles, view videos on all 11 species in Wisconsin, and watch tutorials on how to fill out and submit online reports through the Wisconsin Turtle Conservation Program website.

Download DNR's free fish and wildlife app and explore its watchable wildlife portion for a simple identification guide to the 11 turtle species. The app also includes a simple identification guide for non-game birds and mammals, reptiles, amphibians, mussels, and dragonflies.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Andrew Badje, 608-266-3336; Rori Paloski, 608-264-6040; Tara Bergeson, 608-264-6043

Last Revised: Tuesday, April 29, 2014

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