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 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 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.
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.