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09 March 2010 @ 07:58 pm
Saving the Blanding's Turtle, Part II  

I added my voice to the Sierra Club's petition to stop the Terry Fox road extension in Kanata today. I wrote my own letter rather using the one suggested on its website, based on what I wrote in my previous journal entry. Once again I emphasized that 2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity, and that the City of Ottawa has shown by its recent actions that it places little value the biodiversity found within the unique and wonderful ecosystems of it own region.


Here is the letter:

March 9, 2010

Dear Ministers:

The Blanding's Turtle has been recognized as a species at risk since 1973. In 2004 the Great Lakes population was designated as "Threatened" by COSEWIC, 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.

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.

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.

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.

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 money is involved. Will we have to lose one or more species of turtle, bird, butterfly or mammal forever before governments will say, "We knew it was at risk 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? We need to take steps to protect not just those species facing imminent extinction, but all other species at risk, and we need to do it NOW.

I strongly urge you to put a stop to the development of the proposed funded highway extension of Terry Fox Drive in the Ottawa region and refuse to grant the permit for its development. This construction will hasten the demise of Blanding’s turtles – a threatened population that you have been tasked to protect – as well as the other precious species which are an important part of the ecological diversity of this area and depend on keeping this rich wetland intact in order to survive.

The United Nations proclaimed 2010 to be the International Year of Biodiversity. Biological diversity - or biodiversity - is a term which encompasses the variety of life on Earth, the variability among living organisms, and the variability within and between ecosystems. The UN recognizes that our planet's diversity is being lost at a greatly accelerated rate because of human activities. It declared 2010 to be the International Year of Biodiversity as an opportunity to celebrate life on earth, to increase understanding of the value of biodiversity and the vital role that it plays in sustaining life on our planet, and motivate people around the world to take action to safeguard our irreplaceable natural wealth.

The City of Ottawa has shown by its recent actions that it places little value the biodiversity found within the unique and wonderful ecosystems of it own region. It is my sincere and heartfelt hope that you do value biodiversity, and will protect this species' habitat so that the current population of turtles will survive.

Please consider the future of the Blanding's Turtle and all the other species at risk. Please support biodiversity and halt this project before it is too late.

Yours very truly,

Gillian Mastromatteo
Kanata, ON


If anyone reading this blog opposes the building of this road, particularly if you live in Ottawa or Ontario, please consider adding your voice to the protest. As noted in my previous entry, land is already being cleared 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. The sooner we voice our disapproval, the better chance we have of saving these threatened turtles and the other species which depend on this habitat.