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07 March 2010 @ 01:23 pm
Saving the Blanding's Turtle  

The Blanding's Turtle has been recognized as a species at risk since 1973. In response to declining numbers, the Great Lakes population was designated as "Threatened" by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) in 2004, which means that it is likely to become endangered (i.e. facing imminent extirpation or extinction) if limiting factors are not reversed. The Nova Scotia population of this species is already considered endangered, as only 400 turtles are left in the wild in Kejimkujik Park, despite 15 years of fighting to save them by scientists, students and volunteers. The main factors contributing to this species's decline are the predation of eggs and young by raccoons, foxes and skunks; cool summer temperatures resulting in fewer hatchlings; road mortality; habitat destruction; and illegal collection for the pet trade.

The Blanding's Turtle is a long-lived species, with some individuals reaching over 75 years of age. As it can take between 14 and 25 years for these turtles to reach reproductive maturity, the removal of even a few adults - particularly breeding females - from the population can have a significant impact on the future of this species. Because it takes so long for turtles to reach sexual maturity, and because the annual rate of reproductive success for these animals is extremely low, populations cannot rebound from heavy losses.

Blanding's Turtle

The loss of habitat is one of the most significant threats to this species. Not only does the development of wetlands reduce the amount of habitat available to the turtle, it results in populations becoming fragmented. These turtles travel large distances - up to five kilometres - over land and along roads, from one wetland to another and to nesting sites. As a result, they are particularly vulnerable to being struck and killed by vehicles while crossing roadways. The building of roads, too, creates loose gravel shoulders which are attractive to nesting females. This endangers the females who attempt to nest here, as well as the young turtles which are likely to wander into the road after they hatch. Additionally, there is some evidence that nests on roadsides have a higher rate of depredation.

Blanding's Turtle
Mud Lake, April 2008

We know the population of Blanding's Turtles is declining, we know why it is declining, and we know that if that the factors which contribute to its decline aren't reversed, this species will face extirpation and possibly extinction. It is distressing to read, therefore, that the City of Ottawa is rushing to build a road extension that would cut right through a western Ottawa wetland which has long been home to a population of these turtles. The reason for the rush? The road will have to be built before March 2011 in order to receive federal stimulus funding.

Blandings Turtle with Painted Turtles
Tremblay Beach CA, May 2009

The Blanding's Turtle is not the only species affected by development in this area, which includes hardwood forest, marshy wetlands, disused farm fields, and part of the Carp River floodplain. Endangered butternut trees and American ginseng plants would have to be cut down, and habitat used by Golden-winged Warblers would be destroyed. This bird is also designated as threatened.

Blanding's Turtle
Near Constance Lake, April 2009

I truly do not understand why we put so much time and money into research, identify species at risk of extinction, and then consistently ignore all that research and destroy habitat necessary for those species to survive. It seems that only when a species is actually on the brink of extinction does the public become concerned and governments step in to try to save that species. If a species is merely ranked as threatened, however, municipalities and developers blithely find ways to continue filling in wetlands, cutting down trees, and developing old fields, ignoring the fact that they are contributing to the long-term decline and possible demise of that species. As usual, society becomes exceedingly short-sighted when there is a profit to be made or government funding to be received.

So when will society actually take steps to protect not just those species facing imminent extinction, but all the other threatened species as well? Will we have to lose a species of turtle, bird, butterfly or mammal forever before governments will say, "We knew it was facing extinction but didn't pay attention until it was too late"? Why is it that the species is protected, but not the habitat it requires in order to survive?

Blanding's Turtle with leech
Near Constance Lake, April 2009

The Sierra Club is asking concerned individuals to sign their petition and send a letter to the Ontario Minister of the Environment John Gerretsen and Minister of Natural Resources, Linda Jeffrey protesting the development of this land. The online form for sending a letter to these Ministers can be found here. For those who prefer mail or fax a letter, their contact information is as follows:

John Gerretsen
Minister of the Environment
77 Wellesley Street West
11th Floor, Ferguson Block
Toronto, ON M7A 2T5
Fax:(416) 314-7337

Linda Jeffrey
Ministry of Natural Resources
Suite 6630, 6th Floor, Whitney Block
99 Wellesley Street West
Toronto, ON M7A 1W3
Fax:(416) 325-5316

The letters don't have to be long, just direct in voicing their opposition to the development of this important habitat. And the sooner we write the better, as land is being cleared already for the first 1 kilometre of the Terry Fox extension despite NOT having permits from the Ministry of Natural Resources to cut down the endangered ginseng plants and butternut trees.

Blanding's Turtle
Near Constance Lake, April 2009

I have had the privilege of seeing a few of these beautiful turtles in the wild. The first time was at Mud Lake, when I noticed that one turtle basking in the sun looked different from all the Painted Turtles surrounding it. While I have seen the Blanding's Turtle there on subsequent occasions, my closest encounter with this species was when I found one individual attempting to cross Berry Side Road in the west end. Fortunately this is a dead-end road that leads to Constance Lake, and there was no traffic that morning, so the turtle was able to safely cross to the other side. I find this species quite stunning with its bright yellow throat and high, domed shell, and I managed to get several photos of the Blanding's Turtle from only a few feet away. It is my sincere and heartfelt hope that enough habitat will be protected to support the current population, enabling future generations to have a chance to see and appreciate them.

Please, speak up for these threatened species which cannot speak for themselves, and help us save these turtles.

For more information about the Blanding's Turtle, check out Nature Canada or Ontario Nature.

lake_ranger on October 3rd, 2010 05:00 pm (UTC)
Blandings In Danger
Hello, and thank you for posting this very informative article on the Blandings Turtle. I have been fighting to protect a small Ontario Lake the French River area that is in jeopardy of a commercial campsite development. The area is home to the Blandings Turtle and many other Species at Risk in the Nipissing District. I have posted a website to inform the public what is happening and am asking for permission to use this link to help explain why these turtles need protection. Please visit http://www.marshallsland.com
Thank you once again, I hope I can get the message across before it's too late for this precious species, the lake and woodland that is home to these animals.
Gillian: Lady Beetlegillianm on October 3rd, 2010 09:37 pm (UTC)
Re: Blandings In Danger
Good for you for fighting for these beautiful turtles! I read your webpage and can't believe the city is ignoring the bylaw violations. However, with municipal elections right around the corner, now would be a good time to start an email campaign to your municipal councillor and advise them that their actions will influence who you vote for in this election. You could also bring this to the attention of any "green" candidates and ask them if elected, would they fight to protect this lake.

Good luck in your fight.
(Anonymous) on November 12th, 2010 02:22 pm (UTC)
snapping turtles
doing the same thing as you are doing .It is a difficult task to accomplish, when your own government brakes their own rules.We cannot compete with them. they will destroy mother nature because of their own greed.thanks