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 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.
P.M. Catling and B. Kostiuk
This article appeared originally in the fall 2015 issue of Trail & Landscape
On Saturday, 27 September 2014, twenty OFNC members gathered to participate in an OFNC outing organized to help gather information for the Constance Bay Biothon (Fig. 1). The area of interest here is centred on the Torbolton Sandhills (Constance Bay Sandhills). This Biothon is an ambitious new initiative launched by the OFNC Conservation Committee. It is like a bioblitz but instead of lasting for a day or a weekend, it is an inventory of flora and fauna that lasts for a year. Activities and excursions are planned around the event to provide education, especially for children, and to raise awareness of adults. The Constance Bay Biothon is expected to be the first of a number of biothons planned for natural areas around Ottawa.
The outing began at 10 a.m. with warm (22-24°C) sunny weather which lasted all day. Julia Cipriani, Chair of the OFNC Events Committee, welcomed the participants. Nets were distributed to the children and some adults. In this case collecting did not have a negative impact because, at the late date of the outing, adult grasshoppers had already mated and laid eggs and were soon to die. The group proceeded southeast of the recreation centre toward the clearing, collecting and talking along the way. The history of the area was described, followed by a brief discussion of the known grasshopper fauna and the books and guides that are useful in understanding it.
It was noted that the high sandy deposits that form the peninsula of Constance Bay are unusual in the immediate area and were formed by deposition in and around the postglacial Champlain Sea about 10,000 years ago. In pre-settlement times, the area was mostly covered by scrub (low shrubs and grass) with scattered oaks, Jack Pines, and White Pines, as well as areas of open sand (Catling et al. 2010). There were also areas of more or less open, pine-oak forest. This was an unusual habitat in the lower Ottawa Valley, where beech-maple-hemlock-pine forests prevailed on the drier sites.
Open habitats including sand, scrub, and open woods, were not common in eastern Ontario, and most have now been destroyed. The open habitat of the Sandhills was extensively planted with pine and spruce in the 1950s, and it declined to a fraction of a percentage of its former extent soon after as the tree plantings developed into a dense evergreen forest (Fig. 2). This would not have happened without planting young trees because the seedlings would not have survived in the harsh and competitive environment. Although there were other sandy, open habitats in the Ottawa Valley, few have the remarkably high diversity and occurrence of rare species that is characteristic of Constance Bay (Catling and Brunton 2010). There has been an attempt to restore biodiversity on some open sandy sites in the Ottawa Valley (see work on the Pinhey Dune, Catling and Kostiuk 2013), and an impressive restoration also exists in the Torbolton Sandhills on the Constance Bay peninsula (Catling and Kostiuk 2010).
Grasshoppers and their relatives are largely a tropical group with 35,000 species worldwide. There are approximately 370 grasshoppers and related insects in Canada. In eastern Canada (Ontario eastwards), there are approximately 160 and in the eastern part of southern Ontario, there are about 93. In the Constance Bay area, 32 have been recorded (Table 1). Two that require open, sandy habitats may be extirpated and a few others may yet be discovered. The list is based on observations of the authors and specimens in the Canadian National Collection of Insects (CNCI) as well as those seen on the outing. All of the literature aimed at grasshopper identification is somewhat technical. We used Vickery and Kevan (1985), with help from a few other sources (Bland 2003, Capinera et al. 2004, Otte 1981, Vickery 1991). Some crickets and katydids can be identified by their songs and a useful online source is Walker (2014) which includes references and identification aids as well as songs. Another important online source is the Orthoptera Species File Online (Eades et al. 2015) which provides generally accepted common and scientific names as well as images and distributional information. Outing Results
The children present made a great contribution in collecting specimens with cotton sweep nets or mesh nets. Captured specimens were placed in jars and passed around so that everyone could have a good look. A very young Northern Red-bellied Snake (Storeria occipitom aculata) was also examined by the group. Local resident Hank Jones explained the conservation efforts currently underway to secure the biodiversity of Torbolton Sandhills (see Friends of Torbolton Hills on Facebook).
The highlights of the grasshopper survey were two band-winged grasshoppers: Mottled Sand Grasshopper (Fig. 3) and the Boll’s Grasshopper (Fig. 4), both of which are rare in the region and occupy very small areas of open habitat in the Constance Bay area (see details in the annotated list). The children found a number of Grizzly Grasshoppers which feed on pine needles, unlike other local grasshoppers which feed on grasses or forbs. By 2 p.m. when the group returned to the parking area, 14 species had been recorded. The leaders with Bill Carson and Jacob Mueller carried on along a trail to the northwest and added two more species to the list which had not been recorded in the area, at least not recently. These were the Sprinkled Broad-winged Grasshopper and the Granulated Grouse Grasshopper. The total number for the day was 16 (marked with an asterisk in Table 1).
The work gathered useful information on the species present and indicated an impressive grasshopper fauna. It also suggested that part of the Constance Bay grasshopper fauna may be in a precarious position due to isolation of restricted and declining habitats. However, the fauna may be recovered by more restoration efforts (Fig. 5). Since grasshoppers are a useful indicator group, this also applies to other fauna and flora (see text box).
Bland, R.G. 2003. The Orthoptera of Michigan —biology, keys, and descriptions of grasshoppers, katydids, and crickets. Michigan State University Extension Bulletin E-2815. 220 pp.
Capinera, J.L., R.D . Scott, and T.J. Walker. 2004. Field guide to grasshoppers, katydids, and crickets of the United States. Cornell University Press. 249 pp.
Catling, P.M. and B. Kostiuk. 2010. Successful re-establishment of a native savannah flora and fauna on the site of a former pine plantation at Constance Bay, Ottawa, Ontario. Canadian Field-Naturalist 124(2):169-178.
Catling, P.M. and B. Kostiuk. 2013. Community Conservation, SOS-Dunes—they have saved a dune and have a plan! T&L 47(2):72-78.
Catling, P.M. and D.F. Brunton. 2010. Some notes on the biodiversity of the Constance Bay Sandhills. T&L 44(3): 123-130.
Catling, P.M., K.W. Spicer and D.F. Brunton. 2010. The history of the Constance Bay Sandhills—decline of a biodiversity gem in the Ottawa valley. T&L 44(3):106-122.
Eades, D.C., D. Otte, M.M. Cigliano, H. Braun, S. Heads, and B. Naskrecki. 2015. Orthoptera species file online. Accessed: 01/10/2014.
Otte, D . 1981. The North American Grasshoppers, vol. 1. Acrididae, Gomphocerinae and Acridinae. Harvard University Press. 275 pp.
Vickery, V.R. 1991. Ellipes minutus (Scudder) (Orthoptera: Tridactylodea: Tridactylidae): an addition to the orthopteroid fauna of Quebec. Revue d’Entomologie du Québec 36:26-27.
Vickery, V.R. and K. McE. Kevan. 1985. The grasshoppers, crickets, and related insects of Canada and adjacent regions—Ulonata: Dermaptera, Cheleutoptera, Notoptera, Dictuoptera, Grylloptera, and Orthoptera. The Insects and Arachnids of Canada Part 14. Canadian Government Publishing Centre 918 pp.
Walker, T.J. 2014. Singing insects of North America. Accessed: 01/10/2014.
By David Seburn
They say you can’t fight city hall. However, sometimes you can motivate the powers that be.For some time now, it has been known that hatchling Snapping Turtles (officially listed as a species at risk) are killed on the road to the water filtration plant at the Britannia Conservation Area, or Mud Lake. (See Hatchling Snapping Turtles on the move! and Mud Lake turtle rescue.)
Female Snapping Turtles emerge from the lake every June to find good spots to lay their eggs. Although they may head in any direction, many travel north from the lake and lay their eggs in the gardens and open areas around the filtration plant. Every fall the eggs hatch and the tiny hatchlings head for the lake – or sometimes away from it.
Baby turtles emerging from nests close to the lake may only have to trek a few metres. Others must cross the road to make it to the lake and some fall onto it going in the wrong direction. Being hit by a car, even on a low-traffic road, is always a risk, but a larger problem was the road’s curb. Hatchlings could easily get onto the road by tumbling down from the curb on the north side of the road. But those that crossed safely faced a big problem: they were trapped on the road.
The curb was only about 14 cm tall, but from the viewpoint of a 3-cm-long hatchling, it was an insurmountable cliff (see photo above). Hatchlings could follow the curb and, maybe, find a gap, but this might be 25 m away. Many died from dehydration under the hot sun on the road – or were eaten.
The OFNC Conservation Committee has been working with the city on this issue since early 2015, and a solution has now been put in place. This fall, the city removed the vertical curbs along the south side of the road and replaced them with sloped curbs. The gradual slope means that, come next fall, hatchling Snapping Turtles will be able to cross the road and continue their trek to Mud Lake.
We commend the city for taking this issue seriously and taking action, and we thank all those who made this solution possible!
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.