by David SeburnEarlier this year, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) released proposed changes to the hunting regulations for the province. Among them was a proposal to shorten – but not end – the hunting period for the Snapping Turtle.
The Snapping Turtle is listed as a species at risk both provincially and federally. The management plan for the species clearly states, “Considering the reproductive strategy of the Snapping Turtle (i.e., delayed sexual maturity, high embryo mortality, extended adult longevity…), harvesting (legal or illegal) of adults and older juveniles is especially harmful for wild populations.”
The hunting of turtles is rarely sustainable given their life histories. Snapping Turtles take about 20 years to reach maturity in Ontario, many of their nests are predated by Raccoons, and they face ongoing threats of wetland loss, traffic mortality (often adult females looking for places to nest), and persecution by people. Given all these factors, many people were upset that the MNRF was not going to end the hunting of Snapping Turtles in Ontario. Many organizations, including the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club, Ontario Nature, and the David Suzuki Foundation mounted a campaign to encourage people to tell the government that the Snapping Turtle should not be hunted.Over 13,000 comments were submitted on the proposed hunting regulations and the effort paid off. In the revised regulations, posted on March 31, the government of Ontario had removed the Snapping Turtle from the hunting list. Thanks to everyone who urged the government to end the hunt.
This is a great victory for the Snapping Turtle and everyone who took the time to write to the government about this issue. It is also a powerful lesson to those who care about nature. Current events in the world, particularly south of the border, can make it easy to believe that things are hopeless. But governments do listen to people. When we join together, our voices can be heard and public policy can be changed. It is not always easy, but persistence can pay off. Slow and steady can win the day.
by David Seburn
Snapping Turtles face many threats including the loss of wetlands, traffic mortality, by-catch from commercial and recreational fishing, persecution, and toxic chemicals. If that were not enough, the province of Ontario also allows hunting of Snapping Turtles. Right now, the province is re-considering the hunt. Submissions requesting the hunt be ended are urgently needed.
In less than 5 minutes, you can submit your comments to the government and help protect Snappers. Below is the submission I helped prepare on behalf of the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club. It provides more detail on why hunting long-lived species like Snapping Turtles is likely not sustainable. And below that are two sample letters you can submit for yourself. It is always better to personalize letters so it doesn’t sound like a form letter. Re-word a few sentences. Add a personal anecdote. Do even a little to make it your own. Or write your own letter.
How to submit your comments
- Make submissions via the Environmental Registry.
- Go to the Environmental Registry page.
- Click on the Submit Comments button.
- Fill out some contact info and then paste your submission into the comment box and hit save. It really is that simple.
- Comments are accepted until January 30, 2017.
Comment on EBR Registry Number: 012-9170
Re: Harvest of Snapping Turtles
The current proposed changes to the Snapping Turtle hunt are to “Restrict snapping turtle harvest across Ontario in accordance with guidance provided by the draft Small Game and Furbearer Management Framework, in consideration of the biology of the species, and consistent with recommendations in the Proposed Management Plan for the Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) in Canada.”
The proposed changes would shorten the hunting period and reduce the possession limit to two Snapping Turtles. Unfortunately this does not adequately take into account the biology of the species, or the recommendations in the proposed management plan. The management plan clearly states “Considering the reproductive strategy of the Snapping Turtle (i.e., delayed sexual maturity, high embryo mortality, extended adult longevity; see section 3.4 – Limiting Factors), harvesting (legal or illegal) of adults and older juveniles is especially harmful for wild populations” (sec. 4.2, p.14).
Snapping Turtles in Ontario may take 20 years or more to reach maturity and any hunting and killing of the species must take into account such factors. Snapping Turtles have a suite of life history characteristics involving delayed maturity, high nest predation rates, but extended adult lifespan. This life history strategy is successful when adult mortality rates remain extremely low. Snapping Turtles already face significant threats in Ontario including traffic mortality, boating mortality, fishing by-catch, persecution, toxic contaminants, and habitat loss and fragmentation. Additional sources of mortality, such as from a legal hunt, are likely not sustainable in many areas of the province.
Scientific studies on turtles are very clear that removal of adults will cause a population to decline and recovery may not occur even after a few decades. A Snapping Turtle population in Algonquin Park has been studied by the lab of Professor Ron Brooks for more than 25 years. It experienced significant “hunting” from River Otters in the late 1980s. Following the reduction in the adult population, there was no increase in clutch size, numbers of hatchlings and juveniles, growth rates, or adult recruitment. There has been no population recovery in the last 25 years.
Under the proposed regulations of a daily limit of one Snapping Turtle and a possession limit of two, five people on a weekend hunting expedition at a cottage could take 10 Snapping Turtles from a single population. Removing 10 adults (particularly if they are adult females) could be catastrophic to many small or medium sized populations.
The “Draft Small Game and Furbearer Management Framework for Ontario” states that the first management objective is “sustainable populations.” Yet the evidence based on the life history of the Snapping Turtle, the statements about hunting in the proposed management plan, and the allowable hunting rates in the proposed guidelines all clearly indicate that the hunting and killing of Snapping Turtles is not sustainable. If wildlife management in Ontario is to be science based, then MNRF should not simply restrict the hunt, but end it completely.
Feel free to copy one of the following sample letters as your submission to the Environmental Registry. You can also borrow some text from the OFNC letter. A personalized letter always counts for more, so please make it your own by re-wording some sentences or adding your own thoughts.
The legal hunting of the Snapping Turtle should be halted.
Snapping Turtles are listed as a species at risk both provincially and federally. They face numerous threats, including road kill, loss of habitat and persecution from many people. Large numbers of dead Snapping Turtles are seen on roads every year during the nesting season and most of these are adult females looking to lay their eggs. This threat alone likely is causing some populations to decline. Additional sources of mortality, such as from a legal hunt are likely not sustainable.
Please halt the legal hunt of this species at risk.
The government of Ontario should end the legal hunting of Snapping Turtles.
Snapping Turtles can take more than 20 years to reach maturity. Many of them die on our roads every June as females look for nesting sites. And the Snapping Turtle is now listed as a species at risk both provincially and federally. Why is the hunting of this species still allowed? Please end the hunting of this species to help ensure Snapping Turtles have a future in Ontario.
by Ken Buchan, OFNC Conservation Committee
Note: The deadline for submissions is 18 March 2016
The American Eel (Anguilla rostrata), once common over a large portion of eastern Canada, has declined dramatically in much of its Canadian range due to pressures from fishing, dams blocking migration routes, hydro turbines, habitat degradation, and pollution.
According to Conservation Committee member, Ian Whyte, “There were eels in the Ottawa region, in rivers and lakes all over our 50-km circle, but they are now almost completely extirpated, mainly because of dams. Upriver from Ottawa, there are a few ‘ladders’ [that eels can use to get around a dam during migration], but none downstream. This is most definitely our fight!”
Currently, attempts are being made in some provinces or region to address the problem; e.g., upgrading the listing from Vulnerable to Endangered in some provinces; reducing fishing in some regions; banning fishing in Ontario; and implementing a recovery strategy in Ontario. However, the population continues to decline. A national strategy is urgently needed.
Ontario’s eels have been particularly hard hit, and have dropped to a tiny fraction of their historical numbers. The Ontario decline has far-reaching implications for the overall health of the American Eel population in North America because Ontario’s eels are virtually all large females and carry several times the number of eggs as they migrate to the sea compared with eels from elsewhere. Unfortunately, they face serious pressures from fishing once they leave Ontario, as well as other threats.
In 2012, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), the scientific body that assesses the status of species, concluded that the American Eel is Threatened (see COSEWIC’s assessment report).
As a result, the federal government is now considering whether to list the American Eel under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) and is currently asking the public for comments.
It is important that the American Eel be listed to enable the development of a recovery strategy across the species’ Canadian range.
Unfortunately, the federal government does not necessarily accept the assessment of COSEWIC, especially if there are commercial or political considerations. Therefore, a strong public response is needed.
The federal government is asking the public for comments by 18 March 2016. Submissions can be made:
- via a survey at the following website address: http://www.isdm.gc.ca/survey-enquete/eng/916a957za
- as a letter or email to:Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Species at Risk Programs
343 Université Ave.
Moncton NB E1C 9B6
Important points to make in submissions
- The American Eel is in decline across much of its range in Canada. The species faces multiple threats from fishing, dams which block migration routes, hydro turbines, habitat degradation, and pollution.
- The Ontario population has dropped to a tiny fraction of its historical level, yet faces serious threats from dams, hydro turbines, habitat loss in Ontario, as well as from fishing and pollution on the migration route down the St. Lawrence River to the sea.
- The science is clear and well documented by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (reference COSEWIC, 2012) which has designated the species as Threatened.
- The federal government should accept the COSEWIC scientific assessment and list the American Eel under the Species at Risk Act (SARA).
- Federal listing under SARA is critical as it will permit the development of a coordinated national recovery strategy that addresses the numerous threats.
For details about the taxonomy, habitat, ecology, range, and more, please see Anguilla rostrata, IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
A poem about Anguilla rostrata, by Fred Schueler, a member of the OFNC Conservation Committee.
by the OFNC’s Conservation Committee
The Blanding’s Turtle needs your help. Kanata Lakes North Development Inc. in Ottawa is proposing to “Kill, harm and harass Least Bittern as well as damage up to 10.9 hectares of Least Bittern habitat” and “Kill, harm and harass Blanding’s Turtle as well as destroy up to 124 hectares of Blanding’s Turtle habitat.”
To do that they have applied to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) to get an “overall benefit” permit under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). If you think destroying up to 124 ha of habitat is NOT an overall benefit to these species, please submit a comment via the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR). The more people who calmly and rationally object to this proposal, the more likely it is that MNR will reject or modify the proposal.
In theory, to get an overall benefit permit, KNL must do more than simply recreate what is lost. The proposal calls for creating nesting and overwintering habitat for Blandings Turtles. Potential nesting habitat, open areas where turtles can lay their eggs, can likely be created, although whether the turtles will use it is not known. And whether it will be persist for decades is another question. (Note: Blandings Turtles can live to be 80 years old; they don’t begin to reproduce until they are 14-20.)
Creating overwintering sites is more complicated. If conditions are not right in the created wetland, it could freeze to the bottom killing any turtles that were forced to hibernate there.
You can help
Please read the following letters written by knowledgeable and respected members of the OFNC’s Conservation Committee. Feel free to use any of their content to make your case.
It is always best to personalize an EBR submission so that it does not look like a form letter. You can do that by writing a different opening sentence or two, adding a personal comment about habitat loss, rewriting a few sentences in your own words, or cutting a few sentences as well. Remember any comment against this is better than none, so don’t agonize over drafting the perfect letter.
- Submit your comments on the EBR form. Click the “Submit Comment” button in the right column here – http://www.ebr.gov.on.ca/ERS-WEB-External/displaynoticecontent.do?noticeId=MTI3MTcw&statusId=MTkyMDg1&language=en. Once you’ve filled in the form and your comments, click “Save” to add them to the ministry’s database file.
- It helps to also send a copy of your comments to Premier Wynne (email@example.com).
The deadline for comments has been extended to 17 February 2016. Please be sure to add your voice to this effort to save our threatened Blanding’s Turtles.
Sample letter prepared by David Seburn
Destroying up to 124 ha of Blanding’s Turtle habitat is not an overall benefit to this threatened species. The permit requested by KNL for this development cannot be granted. KNL must demonstrate a net benefit to the species. As the EBR posting states, an overall benefit “is more than ‘no net loss’ or an exchange of ‘like for like’”.
The proposed development states that it will “destroy up to 124 hectares of Blanding’s Turtle habitat.” If this enormous loss of habitat contains any wetlands that are known overwintering sites for the Blanding’s Turtle then the proposal must be rejected. Creating nesting habitat for turtles is potentially straightforward if done carefully. Creating appropriate wintering habitat is quite another. If turtles select an overwintering wetland with the wrong conditions they will die. If KNL is permitted to destroy overwintering wetlands and create other ponds for the turtles to hibernate in then this would be an experiment. It would not be a net overall benefit to the species.
To truly provide an overall benefit to the species, then if >100 ha of habitat is to be destroyed, >200 ha of additional primary habitat must be created. And that habitat should not consist of backyards and storm water ponds, but woodland habitat and complex wetlands, forming a network of connected habitats for this population.
Wetland loss is a serious issue in this province. It is difficult to imagine how anything resembling an overall benefit can come from destroying >100 ha of habitat. All the Blanding’s Turtles in that area must be relocated and somehow kept from returning. If even a few adult females are left behind and die during the process then this is not an overall benefit as the demographic structure of turtle populations requires extremely high rates of adult survivorship. Those turtles that are relocated may be moved to areas outside their normal home range. They will likely be disoriented and attempt to return to their previous home range as many translocation studies have demonstrated. Turtles making such long distance movements are likely to have to cross many roads and face a high probability of being killed on roads.
Blanding’s Turtles can live for more than 50 years. Any actions taken to benefit the species must be maintained for 50 years at a minimum. This includes nesting habitats, fencing and created wetlands. Creating a nesting habitat that is only maintained for 20 years is not an overall benefit to a species that can live for so long.
In conclusion, causing the death of Blanding’s Turtles and destroying >100 ha of their habitat is not an overall benefit to this species and this permit should not be granted.
Letter submitted by Fred Schueler
The proponent’s proposals to “minimize adverse effects on individual members of each species” and “achieve an overall benefit for each species” are both corrupted by the words “may include.” In a situation where a keystone area of habitat would be removed, there must be concrete detailed plans, based on local research into the populations to be affected, before “net benefit” can even be speculated about.
With Butternut and Least Bitterns the habitat requirements are fairly well understood, and a prospective plan (which is not presented here) could conceivably be evaluated. For a species as cryptic and wide-ranging as Blanding’s Turtles, where the wintering habitat is so different among different populations, and a process such as wetland construction for mitigation of destroyed habitat, where the failure rate is so high, the only acceptable way to allow a plea of “net benefit” would be to first
- support a research project to track and monitor the movement of the turtles to see if there is a deficiency of nesting and overwintering habitat near the to-be-destroyed habitat, then
- create the new nesting and overwintering habitat, and then
- support a research project to track and monitor the movement of the Turtles to see if the new habitat features are used enough for the post-destruction population to be larger than that which is present now. This would take at least a decade, and perhaps by then the proponent’s financial backers would have lost interest or become impatient.
- allow the habitat to persist. The more merciful thing – for the Turtles, the proponent, and the ecosystem – is to treat the proposed “net benefit” scheme as the fantasy it has so clearly been composed as.
on this issue can be found on the Greenspace Alliance’s web site
Or contact David Seburn at davidseburn at sympatico dot ca.
by Dave Seburn
Snapping Turtles will never win any prizes for parenting. Females nest by digging a hole in the ground and depositing their eggs in it. They cover the hole and return to the wetland, maternal duties finished. Many of those nests will be dug up by Raccoons or Skunks looking for an easy meal. Some will beat the odds and the eggs will hatch in late summer (typically late August or September).
The hatchlings, little more than the size of a loonie, are on their own. First, they must dig their way to the surface. Then, they head out from the nest, seeking shelter and water. At Mud Lake, in the Britannia Conservation Area, the hatchlings usually head for the lake.
Many Snapping Turtles nest near the filtration plant at the north end of Mud Lake (photo below). Hatchlings from nests laid between the lake and the service road are usually safe if they head straight to the lake. However, when nests are north of the service road, hatchlings have an almost impossible trek ahead of them. When they head south toward the lake they encounter the road, which has steep curbs.
The tiny turtles can easily tumble down the curb onto the road. They may even survive the trek across the hot pavement to the far side. However, they can’t climb up the south curb to continue their journey to the lake. Typically those hatchlings die on the road. They may get run over by a car or die from dehydration on a hot day.Members of the OFNC’s Conservation Committee have met with city staff to discuss this ongoing threat to the Snapping Turtles at Mud Lake. The city is looking into possible solutions and, hopefully, by the fall 2016 the hatchling Snapping Turtles will have an easier trek to the lake.
But for this season, the fate of the hatchlings will depend on the good will of humans. If you happen to be at Mud Lake this month, take a few minutes to check out the road to the filtration plant. Hatchlings can often be found up against the curb on the south side of the road, although they may be anywhere on the road. They are dark in colour and stand out from the gray of the road, but their small size makes them hard to spot, especially if they are not moving. If you find a hatchling Snapping Turtle on the road, move it toward Mud Lake. Hatchlings will not bite and there is no danger in handling them. You can pick up a hatchling with your hand – just be careful not to drop it. Sunscreen on your hands is not likely a problem. Insect repellant may be absorbed by the hatchlings, but the risk from that is far less than certain death on the road.
There is no need to find the perfect spot to release a hatchling. Take it to the closest spot along Mud Lake that you can easily access. I usually release hatchlings 15 cm (6 inches) or more from water to give them a choice as to where they go. They may choose to hide under a small plant or scamper straight into the water.
If you rescue any hatchlings at Mud Lake, please report the number of turtles you moved and the date to davidseburn at sympatico.ca. On behalf of the turtles, a big thank you for any help you can provide.
September 3: The following photos were posted to our OFNC Facebook group by rescuers Elena Kreuzberg and Kevin O’Shaughnessy. Staff from the filtration plant are also monitoring the situation and moving tiny turtles toward the lake as they find them. Thanks, guys!!
September 5: More rescues, more people searching. Thanks, everyone!!
September 8: Four saved, three dead
September 20: OFNC excursion to Mud Lake. No turtles seen, but 2 successful nests located.
September 22: Over 30 guided to water by Tamara Bloom.
By Lucy Patterson, member of the OFNC
On September 12-13th, 2014, Nature Canada held a fall BioBlitz event at Mud Lake. Its goal was to locate, identify, and photograph as many living things as possible within a 24-hour period. The event was part of a larger effort to learn about local biodiversity and catalogue changes over time in population patterns. Mud Lake is a key location to hold a Bioblitz because it lies within an Important Bird Area (IBA) and is a local patch of wilderness right in Ottawa’s west end.
The event included a series of walks guided by local naturalist experts that were open to the general public. Each walk focused on a different group of species: songbirds, waterbirds, vascular plants, mosses and lichens, reptiles and amphibians; and trees, shrubs and grasses.
I took part in the “reptiles and amphibians” walk on Saturday afternoon which was led by Bill Halliday and Julie Châteauvert. Dressed in full-out rain gear, the eager participants braved a steady downpour to look for turtles, frogs, and salamanders around Mud Lake. We flipped rocks and logs to look for salamanders and leopard frogs on the lake edge.
On the way back, we scanned the road near the filtration plant for baby snapping turtles. Next, we took the trail up the hill to look for garter snakes. We saw a number of old snapping turtle nests in the loose rock, complete with crumpled eggshells, but spotted no living creatures save a couple of black-capped chickadees. Due to the unfortunate weather conditions, we did not see very many reptiles or amphibians, but the walk was enjoyable nevertheless. Fingers crossed that the weather cooperates for the spring BioBlitz in 2015!
You can see what species have been surveyed during previous BioBlitz here.
During your next visit to Mud Lake if you spot a hatchling snapping turtle on a road please move turtles to the lake’s edge and contact Ian Whyte.
Photos: Lucy Patterson
by Ian Whyte
On 10 September, I attended an OFNC birding outing at Mud Lake. Because I’ve found Snapping Turtle hatchlings trapped on the road by the filtration plant in previous years, I checked that location on my way home. The road in front of the filtration plant can be a death trap for hatchlings because of the curb. Hatchlings that try to cross the road cannot climb over the curb to get to the lake.
I found six hatchlings that day: three headed toward the lake as fast as a hatchling can and three awaiting death on the road – from exhaustion, a car or a Canada Goose. I put two of these at the lake’s edge. One was visible only through binoculars behind the fence (the door to the building was locked so I could not gain access). The next day, I found six more turtles: four were dead on the road, flattened, and two alive ones were set by the lakeside.
So, out of twelve turtles found, four were already dead, one has no future, four were rescued, and three were all right on their own.
May I ask that any OFNC member who goes to Mud Lake from now until mid-November please also take a minute to check for trapped hatchlings on the road in front of the filtration plant? The part of the road from the collection of old chairs to the fence across the road in front of the filtration plant is where checking is needed. Please put live turtles at the edge of the lake. I’d appreciate it if you emailed me with the details if you do this: firstname.lastname@example.org
from Turtle S.H.E.L.L.
Why did the turtle cross the road? To get to the other side.
It may seem silly, but it’s the truth. Right now many turtles are moving from one marsh to another, to find food, locate a mate, or lay eggs. Historically, this was no problem, but today turtles must often cross busy roads in their wanderings. The result is that hundreds – maybe even thousands – of turtles are killed every year.
Killing future generations
Many of the turtles that are trying to cross roads are females looking for places to lay their eggs. Because turtles can live for decades, killing a pregnant female not only removes a reproductive adult from the population, but it also removes all her potential future offspring. In addition, surviving turtles can’t lay extra eggs to compensate for increased mortality, so once a population starts to decline it is difficult to reverse the trend.
What can you do?
Drive carefully – It’s important to watch the road carefully when you’re driving, particularly near wetlands and rivers. Remember, turtles don’t move very quickly and their first response to danger is to pull into their shell. Turtles don’t understand about cars, but drivers can act responsibly and avoid hitting a turtle.
In many locations in Ontario, drivers can also watch for turtle crossing signs. These signs depicting a stylized turtle are the work of Turtle S.H.E.L.L. (Safety, Habitat, Education, Long Life), a non-profit group dedicated to the conservation of turtles. The signs have been posted at known turtle-crossing areas and they remind drivers to keep a lookout for turtles.
Help turtles cross – If you see a turtle crossing the road, please help it across. First, make sure that it’s safe to help (do not endanger yourself or others by walking into heavy traffic). Move the turtle in the direction in which it is traveling. This might not be toward water, but turtles know where they are going and will turn around and march right back into traffic if you return them to the side of the road they came from.
Small turtles can be easily carried across the road. Snapping Turtles should be handled very carefully as they will bite. Use a shovel, car mat, or blanket to help lift the turtle safely or prod a Snapping Turtle across the road with a long stick. Do not pick up a turtle by the tail as this may damage the vertebrae.
Report injuries – If the turtle is injured, contact the Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary at 1-613-258-9480 and follow their instructions. Check the Turtle S.H.E.L.L. website under the “Emergency” section. It is important to record the exact location where the turtle was found, so that it can be returned to its home. If no distinct landmarks are present, record your odometer reading at the rescue site and then again at the nearest intersection. Keep the turtle in a quiet, dry and cool place during transport and do not provide any food or water for the time being.
If you see a turtle laying eggs – Finally, if you’re lucky enough to witness egg laying and want to help keep the eggs from being dug up by predators, here’s a suggestion from Turtle S.H.E.L.L. Spray the surface over the nest with something to change the scent: a spritz of ammonia or vinegar or even sprinkling something like cayenne pepper over the nest can be effective.