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Thursday, 20 March 2014 00:00

Turtle conservation gaining speed

Written by  Dennis Hines
A road sign alerts drivers to slow down and watch out for turtles along North Lake Shore Drive in Bloomfield. Local resident Jennifer Tschida spearheaded the effort to get the signs in order to keep turtles from being killed by vehicles. A road sign alerts drivers to slow down and watch out for turtles along North Lake Shore Drive in Bloomfield. Local resident Jennifer Tschida spearheaded the effort to get the signs in order to keep turtles from being killed by vehicles. Terry Mayer

WALWORTH COUNTY SUNDAY -- Jennifer Tschida is happy to see traffic moving slowly on North Lake Shore Drive these days. That means more people are taking time to watch out for the turtles that often cross the road near her home.

“We have many species of turtles here, and they always cross back and forth along the road,” Tschida said. “I wanted to make more people aware of the turtles. I wanted people to slow down and not run over the turtles.”

In order to get turtle crossing signs along the road, Tschida worked with the state Department of Natural Resources, tracking the number of turtles crossing the road and the number of turtles killed by vehicles. 

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The signs were installed last summer.

“Since the signs have been up, I’ve noticed more people stopping to help the turtles cross the street,” Tschida said. “There’s a day care nearby with about 10 kids, and I told them about the turtles, and they were very excited. I’ve noticed the kids stopping to help the turtles.

“Not only have I noticed more people stopping to pick up the turtles, but I’ve also noticed less smashed turtles on the road. There’s been more knowledge and less turtle fatalities.”

The turtle-saving effort is gaining momentum in Wisconsin, according to Andrew Badje, conservation biologist for the DNR.

“There’s more people getting signs up. It’s a good measure for creating awareness,” Badje said. “The best thing we could do is get some fencing up or get an under passage for the turtles near the roads. That way they can walk under the road, and it will eliminate any potential for them of getting hit. The road signs are an educational opportunity, as well.”

Residents are encouraged to contact the DNR if they notice turtle crossing areas in their community, he said.

“Whether if they notice if a turtle is dead or alive, we want them to report any roads where turtles are crossing,” Badje said. “That way we can help make the crossing safer for turtles.”

There are about 11 turtle species in Wisconsin, and they all are on the decline, Badje said. Those in the most danger are the ornate box turtle, wood turtle and smooth soft shell turtle.

Vehicles and predators are the biggest threats, he said.

“The cause (of turtle deaths) usually depends on the location. In southeast Wisconsin, the bigger threat is road mortality,” Badje said. “A bigger concern throughout the entire state is the population increase of predators, such as raccoons and foxes. They’re digging up the turtle nests and preventing the population of younger turtles from establishing.”

Loss of habitat is another threat, Badje said.

“There’s roads being built through habitats, and some of the wetlands are being lost to construction,” he said. “Some habitat areas are being re-established, but a lot of the habitats are being destroyed.”

There also is the threat of people collecting turtles as pets.

“It’s not as big of a threat as it has been in the past, but it’s still a threat,” he said.

Jeannie Lord of the Pine View Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education  Center in Fredonia said the center receives a lot of turtles in the spring when they are more active.

“Two years ago in the spring when we had a lot of rain, we had at least 22 turtles brought into us that were hit by cars,” Lord said. “Spring is a high activity time for turtles. Males will leave their area to find a female. In May, a lot of females will begin to lay their eggs.”

If someone notices an injured turtle, they should place it on the side of the road, contact a rehabilitation center and put it in a box or in the car, Lord suggested. If it’s a snapping turtle,  place a blanket or shirt over it and contact the rehabilitation center at (262) 692-9021 for further instructions.

“With a snapping turtle, you don’t want to put a finger or hand near its head, because it’s likely to snap off a finger,” Lord said.

Turtles should be left in the wild instead of being taken home as pets, she said.

“You can look at it and learn about it, but leave it,” Lord said. “Few people have the knowledge to maintain a turtle and to maintain its health. Turtles don’t belong in an aquarium. They belong out in the wild.

“If you take reptiles out of the wild, it’s like a death sentence for them. Snapping turtles are not pets. They don’t make good pets. They can grow as large as a garbage can lid and then you have to figure out what to do with it. People need to think before they take them as pets. It’s OK to look at it, but leave it.”

Lord said the rehabilitation center conducts outreach programs to educate residents about turtles.

“Turtles are endangered, and their numbers are dropping,” Lord said. “We do education programs and outreach to show what a turtle that has been kept as a pet looks like. We want to be proactive.”

For Bloomfield resident Tschida, her outreach effort will continue as she makes more local residents aware of the turtles in their midst.

“I work for the water department, and people have come in and shown me pictures of the turtles that they have helped save,” Tschida said.

Her interest in saving turtles goes back to when she used to live in Hawaii.

“Living in Hawaii, I bonded with the honu, or Hawaiian sea turtle, which means peace, good, luck, humility, long life and the spirit within,” Tschida said. “So, I brought that love back with me.

“Sending the turtles on the right path makes me feel like I have done my good deed for the day.”

People in this conversation

  • Guest - Jo Friday

    Thank you, Ms. a Society, we need to show our compassion for (wildlife) as well. We are very blessed to live in an area where we are able to enjoy and appreciate the beauty of all creatures. Your dedication and sincere efforts are very much endorsed by many! Thank you!

  • Guest - Ronda Smith

    Great article! I love seeing the turtles! Love helping them get across the road! I actually caught myself looking for them today; then realized it is a bit early.;)

  • Guest - Louise Bestler

    Good job Miss Tschida. That is amazing that so many turtles have been saved because you have made the people aware.;)

  • Guest - Jennifer Tschida

    Love my turtles! May is right around the corner. Please slow down. Thank you :)

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