Monday, June 11, 2012
Volunteers needed for turtle-spotting program
By Michael Morton/Daily News staff
MetroWest Daily News
Posted Jun 10, 2012 @ 11:57 PM
It’s no secret — turtles are slow, and when they sense danger they stop in their tracks and retreat into their shells.
So with the region’s busy roads slicing up their wetland homes, they can once again use a little help this egg-laying season — like that afforded by the annual Turtle Roadway Mortality Monitoring Program and volunteers like retired Wayland teacher Emily Norton.
“The roads end up being killing fields for them,” Norton said of the female turtles, which leave the wetlands and cross roads to find soft, sunny, dig-able spots in which to lay eggs.
Four years ago, the state’s Division of Fisheries and Wildlife and Department of Transportation teamed up to save wildlife and boost human safety by reducing collisions with cars — the Linking Landscapes for Massachusetts Wildlife program.
The initiative asks residents to report wildlife sightings though an online database so they can be pinpointed on Google Maps, with a particular ecological focus on turtles.
So far, program staff have trained 100 turtle spotting volunteers in species and habitat identification, as well as safety tips — like always face traffic when out working.
Each volunteer is given an orange hard hat and a reflective safety vest and adopts a short section of road identified as high-risk because of its proximity to wetlands, especially causeways with wetlands on both sides.
Volunteers go out for surveys three times, once in May and twice in June. They are asked to log the species, gender and estimated age of both living and dead turtles. Fatalities are particularly important, but, fortunately, not always spotted despite projections.
“I think people get more disappointed when they don’t find anything,” program co-Director and biologist David Paulson said from fish and wildlife’s Westborough headquarters. “I tell them a negative result isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”
But Norton, who taught science and lives in Townsend, remembers dreading the drive to work along Rte. 27 in Wayland, knowing that near the Sudbury town line she would spot turtle casualties in the warmer months.
“I don’t know how many times I stopped traffic to get turtles across the road,” she said.
It was one of her posts for the study, and she would cart injured turtles to Tufts’ veterinary school in North Grafton, where they would usually die.
After securing two grants, a donation and a small army of volunteers, her team strung up wire mesh under an existing guardrail, with one-way doors in case animals still found a way onto the road. Mortalities soon dropped.
For the larger study, a stretch of Rte. 119 in Littleton was quickly identified as a hotspot, representing about 100 of the 303 fatalities identified in 2009, the most recent program report available.
But a new fence soon saw that number drop to a handful, Paulson said. Options elsewhere could include installing “wildlife crossing” signs, enlarging culverts or using barriers to funnel wildlife into existing passageways under roads.
Other spots in Sudbury have been studied, but came up clear, at least in 2009.
(Michael Morton can be reached at 508-626-4338 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Source: The Milford Daily News