Monitoring Wood Turtles at Milligan Creek

Huron Pines and the Odawa Tribe Research Wood Turtles near the Upper Black River

If there’s a race to reconnect river miles, there’s one slow and steady neighbor watching the progress unfold. As part of the construction at Milligan Creek, Huron Pines had the opportunity to work alongside the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, who have been following wood turtles, monitoring their behavior in the area and relocating especially at-risk turtles. 

Bill Parsons, Inland Fish & Wildlife Biologist in the Natural Resource Department with the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, researches wood turtles in the Cheboygan River Watershed as part of a long-term survey that aims to learn more about the nesting locations, seasonal habitat and threats to the population. 

“One of the turtles near Milligan Creek is moving almost two miles,” Parsons said. “She travels two miles from Stoney Creek in this annual migration, lays eggs on a gravel road, then spends two weeks getting home.” 

Parsons found that the turtles often nest in poor locations on gravel roads near culverts, travel long distances, and make themselves susceptible to raccoons and other predators eating the bulk of their eggs. This is particularly concerning to Parsons, who points out that wood turtles don’t become reproductive until 10-16 years of age, and only lay eggs once per year. 

In the 2018 season, 10 females were affixed with transmitters near Milligan Creek. One particular turtle was on the forest edge near an actively farmed hayfield, and is now having its movements monitored seasonally. During construction of the new culvert, Huron Pines joined Parsons to track and sometimes relocate turtles that were deemed at-risk. 

Wood turtles, listed by the state as a species of special concern, are a culturally significant clan animal for the Odawa Tribe. “The tribe has a youth conservation corps with teenage students employed near this area,” Parsons said. “They helped the past couple summers in the tracking of these turtles.” 

Parsons is quick to thank private landowners adjacent to Milligan Creek who have been cooperative in allowing researchers access to property, and even proactive in building nesting habitat for the animals, adding that sandy, south-facing habitat is helpful for the turtle life cycle, “so the wood turtles have a safe place to bury eggs.”

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