Slow and Steady: How Connected Lands Help Blanding’s Turtle Stay in the Race

This is the second in a series examining rare, threatened and endangered species that have found their homes in the unique habitats of Northeast Michigan. You can read the first piece here.

A Blanding’s turtle on a log. Photo credit Andrew Cannizzaro

One of Michigan’s more robust turtle species, the Blanding’s turtle is distinguished by its helmetlike shell and mustard-yellow throat. Though not federally listed as an endangered species, it is one of special concern in Michigan where its habitats have been fragmented by roads and development.

“The Blanding’s turtle requires whole landscapes,” said Steve Woods, Conservation Stewardship Director with Huron Pines. “They’re mobile and spend their time moving between wetlands which means they cross a lot of roads where mortality from vehicle strikes is high.”

They’re also a long-lived species, which means they don’t reach sexual maturity until 15 or 20 years of age and can continue reproducing well into their 80s. This fact was not lost on Woods when he encountered a Blanding’s turtle near Hubbard Lake Nature Preserve that had just finished laying her clutch of eggs in the gravel shoulder of the road.

“To think, it may be twice as old as I am, crawling around Hubbard Lake for 80 years and seeing the landscape change,” he said. “They were here before we were and I believe they have a right as an indigenous species to continue. If there are things we can do to help them thrive, morally and ethically that’s the thing to do.”

Because of its mobile nature, the Blanding’s turtle needs plenty of safe, wild and connected space to traverse without having to cross over dangerous roadways. As development increases in Northern Michigan, especially near coastal and wetland areas, the turtle’s habitat is disrupted by new construction, increased traffic and a shifting landscape. Turtles don’t care if land is public or private, pristine or developed in their search for ideal habitat.

The best way to help the species, Woods said, is by connecting habitats through land protection. Part of Woods’ work with Huron Pines is identifying lands that are good candidates for future protection for the benefits they may offer rare species or habitats.

Former Huron Pines AmeriCorps member Ben Bravo holds a Blanding’s turtle while installing reptile boards as snake and turtle habitat in Squaw Bay, a coastal wetland on Lake Huron in Alpena County.

PRESERVING LANDSCAPES TO FOSTER RARE SPECIES

The primary goals of the Huron Pines land protection program are to preserve and enhance special ecosystems, foster meaningful connections to the land and inspire stewardship so our natural resources can be sustained for the future.

If there are things we can do to help them thrive, morally and ethically that’s the thing to do.

Steve Woods, Conservation Stewardship Director, Huron Pines

To achieve those goals, Huron Pines uses community input, data collection, stormwater assessment and land mapping to work with communities in prioritizing conservation opportunities in the region. One aspect of that work is protecting land that supports diversity of plants and animals or harbors rare or threatened species. 

“There are dozens of species in Northern Michigan that, like the Blanding’s turtle, require more habitat” he said. “What we’re looking for are the places where our land stewardship and protection efforts can help multiple species simultaneously.”

GIVE BLANDING’S A BOOST

The most simple and instantly gratifying way to help the Blanding’s turtle — or any turtle species for that matter — is by getting them safely across the roadway. If you see a turtle attempting to cross a road and it’s safe to pull your vehicle over, do so. Pick the turtle up by its sides and support it from underneath. Move the turtle the shortest distance possible to whichever side of the road it was facing so you’re not inadvertently setting it off course. Be sure to clean your hands immediately with soap and water or alcohol-based sanitizer.

One note of warning: Snapping turtles are also prone to crossing roadways in search of nesting sites and can deal a serious bite to a helping hand. They are best moved with the help of a box or shovel and some gentle coaxing. Snappers have rough shells often coated with algae. Blanding’s and other turtles have shells that are rounded and smooth.

You can also support the protection of healthy and connected wildlife habitat by volunteering with inventories and monitoring efforts through conservation organizations like Huron Pines. You can be an advocate for conservation and inspire others by sharing stories of the places you love, highlighting rare and special species like the Blanding’s turtle. You can also support land protection efforts directly with a donation to Huron Pines at huronpines.org/donate. Every dollar helps Huron Pines do more to protect the places and species that make Northern Michigan special.


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