Spring has arrived and wildlife enthusiasts will begin to see turtles on the move throughout Wisconsin.
As temperatures rise, more turtles will be out basking in the sun near their overwintering habitats, with some eventually moving to nearby wetlands. Between late May and early June, many females will instinctively migrate to sandy or gravelly uplands where they will lay eggs and make the return trip back to their native wetlands.
Turtles are especially active from May through August and motorists near wetlands should be extra-cautious during this period. This time frame is also when biologists observe the highest adult turtle mortality near roads, one of the leading causes of declining turtle numbers in Wisconsin, along with loss of suitable habitat and other factors.
Volunteers and citizen scientists throughout Wisconsin have dedicated themselves to conserving turtles and look forward to another year of information sharing through the Wisconsin Turtle Conservation Program. This reporting system allows people to contribute general turtle observations and nesting locations as well as the ability to submit photographs.
The state Department of Natural Resources review and compile the submissions, which are used as a management tool to enhance and target future conservation actions on local and regional scales.
The loss of even one adult female turtle can have a large effect on future population numbers and recruitment, especially in isolated populations or in species like the wood turtle that can take from 12 to 20 years to reach reproductive age.
In addition, research has shown that as reproductive females gain experience through age, they become more successful in hatching higher percentages of young. Actions that prioritize the conservation of older adults – especially females – are an important step in sustaining turtle populations throughout Wisconsin.
The DNR continues to partner with citizens, municipalities, universities and road agencies, including the state Department of Transportation, to achieve a sustainable transportation system that emphasizes the protection of humans, turtles and other wildlife in a cost-effective manner.
A road resurfacing project in Stevens Point set to begin in 2016 will allow turtles to cross underneath the road through a combination of fences and a specially designed culvert. In addition, a three-year University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point study has been designed to track the seasonal movements of individual turtles, locate nesting areas and determine the effectiveness of the added fencing and culvert.
People that encounter turtles on a roadway are asked to remember these tips:
• Avoid picking turtles up by their tail. Instead, pick them up by the sides of their shell.
• Escort turtles to the side of the road that they were headed.
• If dealing with large snapping and spiny softshell turtles, have them bite down on a stick or long object and carefully escort or glide them off the road.