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Turtles Crossing Roads: Drivers Be Aware!

Duluth News Tribune

It’s spring turtle season, that time of year when turtles cross roads to get to their egg laying sites. Do your part to help them make it across safely.

Wisconsin and Minnesota Departments of Natural Resources are putting the word out that it’s turtle season. Not turtle harvesting season, but rather turtle nesting season, when turtles wander across roads to nesting sites.

This activity of crossing roads is, of course, not peculiar to Wisconsin and Minnesota; drivers from all states should be aware of the danger to turtles at this time of year.

A Minnesota DNR news release indicates that, “Allowing turtles to cross the roads is vital to preserving regional populations.” Concerned citizens and turtle lovers feel that highway mortality is a big factor in dwindling turtle populations.

“Many turtles and other species are killed on Minnesota roads each year, especially during the nesting season,” said Carol Hall, DNR herpetologist, “In fact, roadway mortality is believed to be a major factor in turtle population declines throughout the United States.”

Wisconsin DNR conservation biologist Andrew Badje says that “…turtles are coming up out of the wetlands and actually trying to nest on roads, or in some cases just trying to move between wetlands, as well.”

The agencies are asking drivers to be extra aware and cautious during this time of year, and to do what they can to make turtle road crossings safe for the reptiles.

Roadways near bodies of water or marshy areas are especially hazardous to turtles, and some roads are more likely than others to see turtle activity.

For example, a highway near Horicon Marsh in Wisconsin has over 100 turtles killed by vehicles every year. But turtles can also travel many miles and can be found fairly far from water.

The Minnesota DNR suggests the following:

  • Think safety. Simply pulling off the road and turning on hazard lights may alert other drivers to slow down. Be aware of surroundings and traffic. Do not swerve.
  • Avoid excessive handling. While wanting to inspect turtles closely is understandable, excessive handling can disrupt normal behavior. Prolonged examination of turtles should be limited to only one or two individuals of each species.
  • Allow unassisted road crossings. When turtles can safely cross roads unaided due to a lack of oncoming traffic, allow them to do so. Observe from a distance and avoid rapid movements, as doing otherwise will often cause turtles to change direction, stop or seek shelter within their shells.
  • Handle turtles gently. If necessary to pick them up, all turtles except snappers and softshells or “leatherbacks” should be grasped gently along the shell edge near the midpoint of the body. Be advised that many turtles empty their bladder when lifted off the ground, so be careful not to suddenly drop them.
  • Maintain direction of travel. Always move turtles in the same direction they were traveling in when encountered. Turtles should always be moved across roadways in as direct a line as possible. It may seem helpful to “assist” the turtle in its journey by moving them to a nearby body of water, but it is important to remember the phrase, “If you care, leave it there.”
  • Document your find. Help document turtle crossing and mortality areas by participating in the Minnesota Turtle Crossing Tally & Count Project.

Wisconsin has a similar citizen-based monitoring and reporting program. The Wisconsin Turtle Conservation Program is the place to get more information and to report turtle sightings and road crossings.

Like what you see here? You can read more great articles by David Smith at his facebook page, Stumpjack Outdoors.

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Turtles Crossing Roads: Drivers Be Aware!