Land Trust Turtle Project Shows Early Success

How do turtles cross the road?  At the Haliburton Highlands Land Trust’s study site on Gelert Road, they swim under it through the culvert.

In October 2014, as part of a three-year study on turtle road mortality mitigation, the Land Trust erected a barrier wall on both sides of an existing culvert on Gelert Road.  The ends of the wall were turned in towards the wetland to drift fence 1prevent turtles from crossing the road and provide an opportunity for the turtles to use the culvert as an underpass.

Though it is early in the season, the Land Trust has already documented a number of turtles walking along the barrier wall to the end pieces.  At those ends, rather than going around the barrier wall the turtles have turned back into the wetland as predicted. 

Many turtles have also been observed travelling through the culvert at varying speeds and styles.  They are able to use the culvert in both directions, moving with the current and against it.  Large turtles are taking only minutes to swim through the culvert.  Smaller turtles can take up to 20 minutes and some appear to be moving sideways using the side walls of the culvert to push themselves through the passage.  In all cases the turtles have been able to safely move from the wetland on one side of the road to the wetland on the other side.

Why this project is important

Turtle road mortality is the leading cause of population declines in turtles.  In Haliburton County, five of our six turtle species are at risk.  Our turtle populations are at real risk of extinction.

The aim of the project is to test a unique mitigation design for keeping turtles off the road while they travel from hibernation sites into feeding, mating and nesting sites.  As road networks expand, the natural landscape becomes fragmented and turtles are often forced to move up and onto road surfaces.  Soft road shoulders are attractive to adult female turtles as nesting sites.

The “Turtle Project” involves monitoring three sites for turtle activity – the test site and two control sites.  Our volunteer turtle monitors are working hard to document turtle activity on the road and in the adjacent wetlands to collect the data necessary to understand the effectiveness of the barrier wall.

The Land Trust has been conducting natural heritage research for the last eight years.  This research has helped us prioritize areas for conservation and education.  The Land Trust has identified a number of ecologically important wetland complexes in the County and houses an extensive database of species at risk observations.  That information has been crucial to our understanding of sensitive areas and led us to take action.

With the major loss of species and habitats to the south, Haliburton County provides an important reservoir of habitats.  But the County faces pressure from ongoing development and the expansion of our road networks.  This project seeks to find a balance between development and conservation.  Our unique barrier wall may provide another tool in preventing the loss of our turtle species and maintaining the integrity of our wetlands.

If you would like to play a part in this important research, please contact our office at admin@haliburtonlandtrust.ca or call 705-457-3700.  There are immediate openings for turtle monitors and other volunteer work.  Training is provided. For more information on the project, go to this page, or contact our office.

This project is generously funded by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry Species at Risk Stewardship Fund.  The Land Trust also wishes to thank its partners and sponsors including Glenside Ecological Services Ltd., U-Links Centre for Community Research, Fowlers Construction, Armtech and Canadian Tire. The Haliburton Highlands Land Trust is a non-profit, non-governmental, registered environmental charity. Its mission is to protect the natural heritage of Haliburton County for future generations.

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