Wood Turtle Monitoring and Stewardship

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View our video, “A Wood Turtle Tale” to see into a day in the life of a wood turtle within our watershed.

About the Wood Turtle

The Wood Turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) is a medium-sized, semi-aquatic, freshwater species of the Emydidae family. It is endemic to northeast North America, and is classified as “threatened” under the New Brunswick Provincial and Federal Species at Risk Acts (SARA). Throughout its entire range from Nova Scotia west to New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, and south to Minnesota, Virginia and Maryland, the long lived reptile is in various stages of decline. In some states it is thought to be extirpated.
As the most terrestrial in its family, the wood turtle can travel up to a kilometer away from overwintering sites during its active months of April through October. Travelling great distances to forage, nest, and copulate has created many obstacles for the turtles as urban sprawl has left them vulnerable to road injuries and mortalities and illegal capture for the exotic pet trade. Their habitats have also suffered as a result of degradation, destruction, and increased predation due to urbanization. Injury and death as a result of agricultural machinery, particularly mowing blades, is perhaps the greatest threat to populations within the Petitcodiac watershed.

The Wood Turtle Monitoring and Stewardship Project was initiated by the Petitcodiac Watershed alliance (PWA) in collaboration the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources (NBDNR) to assess the wood turtle population within the Petitcodiac River Watershed. This was the first time in history a study of the wood turtle was conducted within the watershed. Our original goals for the project outcomes are as follows:

  • Identify and map wood turtle habitat within the watershed using Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
  • Assess sites for wood turtle activities such as foraging, copulation, and nesting
  • Identify habitat types used by the wood turtle
  • Identify local threats to the wood turtle within our watershed
  • Create local stewards of the species by informing, and involving the public in the project

Before our project, no formal study of the species had been undertaken within our watershed, and knowledge of their existence was purely anecdotal. During May-June, and September-October, the PWA conducted a series of repeatable land and water surveys on foot in tributaries throughout the watershed. A total of 32 wood turtles including 11 individual males, 19 individual females, 2 individual juveniles were identified throughout the watershed between 2014 and 2017: an 11:19:2 ratio (male: female: juvenile) was determined. Perceived threats within a kilometer radius of rapid assessment (RA) sites included roads, recreation, all terrain vehicle (ATV) trails, haying fields, and highways.

For more information on the results of our project, download the
2016-2017 Wood Turtle Monitoring & Stewardship Report
2015 Wood Turtle Monitoring Report
2014 Wood Turtle Project Report

Wood Turtle Awareness and Stewardship Campaigns

Community outreach is a vital to the project because reducing threats to wood turtles is largely dependent on communication with watershed citizens, particularly those living in or near wood turtle habitat. The PWA worked under the guidance of the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources (NBDNR) to implement a strategy to effectively communicate with citizens within our watershed, particularly riparian landowners, about conserving habitat, reducing threats, and protecting the species. The PWA also gave presentations as part of our PWA Roadshow to schools and community groups, and went door-to-door to educate and delivery of NBDNR’s “New Brunswick Species at Risk: Wood Turtle” fact sheet to community members living in or near known wood turtle habitat. We were even able to have our project featured in WWF’s Turtle Tuesdays blog.

The PWA also uses social media and news platforms to promote project and increase the general population’s awareness of the wood turtle. We started the #SHELLFIE campaign in an effort to reach as many people through as many platforms as possible. This campaign involved placing 100 clay wood turtles coupled with a page of information on the species, its conservation status and tips attached throughout the watershed, specifically in nature parks.This is a fun way to engage watershed citizens with a local species-at-risk and to educate them on what to do and what not to do if they should encounter a real turtle. People love turtles but have little knowledge about their needs as a species in today’s world, so the shellfie handout is meant to educate locals about the needs of these turtles and how they can help reduce threats to them.
See our #SHELLFIE promotional video.

wwf_screenclay turtle portrait

This season was successful in identifying wood turtle habitat and threats as well as educating hundreds of watershed citizens about a species of which they had little awareness. Many riparian landowners and haying farmers were informed of the presence of wood turtles and showed an interest in our conservation efforts. We would like to see this project continue to strengthen by creating stewards and stakeholders, to include the whole community in helping the wood turtle thrive.

This project was made possible thanks to these generous partners:

ECCC

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