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DNR seeking citizen reports of turtle road crossing hotspots, help in nest protection

Published by Central Office May 21, 2019

Contact(s): Andrew Badje, DNR Natural Heritage Conservation biologist, 715-921-5886

MADISON - As female turtles start leaving the water in search of sand or gravel uplands to lay their eggs, Wisconsin conservation biologists are asking people to report where the turtles cross the road and to help protect nests that turtles may build on residential lawns, gardens or gravel driveways.

Turtle crossing hotspots. - Photo credit: DNR
Turtle crossing hotspots.Photo credit: DNR

"Turtles will soon be moving around to lay their eggs in upland areas, and we need your help to make sure as many of them survive as possible and that their eggs do too," said Andrew Badje, who coordinates the Wisconsin Turtle Conservation Program for the DNR Natural Heritage Conservation Program.

"Turtles killed crossing roads and predators eating their eggs are big problems that can endanger turtle populations in Wisconsin. So DNR is once again asking people to report turtle crossing hotspots, and asking people to consider protecting nests on their land with a homemade nest cage," he said.

People can report turtle crossings by searching online for DNR's Wisconsin Turtle Conservation Program website. [exit DNR] 

Since DNR started asking for citizens to report deadly road crossings for turtles in 2012, conservation biologists have documented 1,959 turtle crossing locations. Of those, 42 crossings are particularly deadly for turtles, resulting in high levels of mortality that could eventually lead to population collapse if left unchecked. Some species of turtles, like the wood turtle, take 12 to 20 years to reach reproductive maturity, so the death of even a few turtles in a population can take a big toll, Badje said.

"We very much appreciate receiving these citizen reports because they give conservation biologists a great statewide picture of problem crossings," he said. "People live in every corner of Wisconsin and are particularly aware of the turtle crossings in their neighborhoods."

Such data are critical for DNR staff to have when working with local and state highway departments in Wisconsin, Badje said. Citizen reports, for example, allowed DNR to work with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point to build a wildlife underpass when State Highway 66 just northeast of Stevens Point was reconstructed, a project detailed in the article "Tunnel Vision [PDF]" in the Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.

The citizen reports also help DNR document previously unknown turtle populations, update the status of known populations for which there is little data and can help DNR property managers use the information to manage for turtles in their areas.

How citizen scientists and communities can protect turtle nests

View Slideshow SLIDE SHOW | 7 photos

Take time for turtles

Badje asks that people consider helping turtles by protecting their nests when females lay eggs in residential lawns, gardens, or gravel driveways. Nests in these areas are highly susceptible to predation from raccoons, skunks, coyotes, opossums, and even chipmunks, and once turtles lay their eggs they do not return, leaving the eggs and later hatchlings vulnerable.

Badje suggests creating a 16-inch wide, by 16-inch long, by 8-inch high nest cage using 1-inch high by 2- to 3-inch wide wire fencing material so predators cannot access the eggs concealed underground. More information including pictures are found in this Protecting Turtle Nests [PDF] factsheet.

It's important to bury the cage about 3-inches below the substrate level and stake down all four corners of the cage; such a design allows turtles to hatch and exit on their own, without the need for constant human supervision, he said.

"We understand that taking these steps to protect nests from predators takes a fair amount of time and effort. We are grateful for the help; it is particularly important in urban areas where turtle populations are already threatened by high mortality along busy roads," Badje said.

Find videos and more information about Wisconsin's 11 native turtle species and other ways to help them, on DNR's Wisconsin Turtle Conservation Program website.

Last Revised: Tuesday, May 21, 2019

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