Alarmed by the number of turtles injured and killed by cars, wildlife center director launches campaign to educate drivers, post crossing signs
Jean Lord loves animals, but she is sick and tired of seeing turtles — not the ones living along the streams and rivers of Ozaukee County but the ones that are being hit and often killed by cars and trucks at an alarming rate on local roads and highways.
The executive director of Pine View Wildlife Rehabilitation Center said the problem is becoming epidemic, and she’s not content just trying to nurse injured turtles back to health at her facility in Little Kohler.
Lord has launched a local campaign to protect turtles, working with landowners to place turtle crossing signs along the most deadly roads and highways.
“If you slow down and drive around a rock in the road, why on earth wouldn’t you do the same for a turtle in the road?” Lord asked. “Drivers need to slow down and be aware that this is the time of year when turtles are moving. What they think is a rock in the road could very easily be a life, or many lives in the case of a female turtle carrying as many as 30 eggs.”
During a recent three-day period, 14 snapping and painted turtles hit by cars were brought to Pine View. Some were dead. Most had to be euthanized. A handful are being treated for broken shells and other injuries, Lord said.
“We see just some of the turtles that are hit by cars. We can only guess how many there are total, but we know it’s too many,” she said. “This is an already compromised species, so the least we can do is slow down and watch for them.”
Turtles, primarily snapping and painted turtles in Ozaukee County, are faced with a host of challenges — the loss of habitat, climate change, illegal pet trade and disease — but one of the most significant threats to the population is road mortality, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which earlier this month launched the Wisconsin Turtle Conservation Program.
Like Lord’s effort, the state program seeks to educate motorists, as well as collect data to pinpoint the most dangerous areas for turtles.
What researchers already know is that while some turtle-car accidents are unavoidable, others are due to careless driving. More alarming, state experts say, is the fact the research has shown some drivers intentionally hit turtles.
“Road mortality is a major factor in the decline of many of our turtle species,” according to Andrew Badje, a DNR conservation biologist. “It’s one thing we can reduce if we’re cautious and alert for turtles crossing roads and highways, avoid them and take the extra step of letting the DNR know where that turtle crossing was.”
From May through September, Lord said, turtles are on the move, leaving their aquatic habitats in search of upland nesting areas.
Snapping turtles will often lay their eggs in gravel, sometimes on the shoulders of roads, she said.
Painted turtles leave their usual habitat to lay eggs.
“Sometimes you see them in back yards or even along driveways,” Lord said.
At the very least, she said, motorists need to be vigilant for turtles on roads and avoid them.
“If they want to stop, presuming they can do so safety, and move them, great,” Lord said. “Just remember to move them in the direction they were going.”
Caution is warranted when dealing with snapping turtles. The DNR recommends giving the turtle a stick to bite down on, then handling it gently by the tail to coax it across the road.
“Or, if you’re worried about losing a finger, call us,” Lord said. “We’d be happy to help.”
To sponsor a turtle crossing sign for a $40 donation, contact Pine View Wildlife Rehabilitation Center at 692-9021.
Image Information: HOLDING A PAINTED turtle that was hit by a car on a northern Ozaukee County road, Pine View Wildlife Rehabilitation Center Executive Director Jean Lord stood next to a sign warning drivers of turtle crossing areas. Lord is working with landowners to erect similar signs along roads and highways. Dozens of inured and dying turtles have been brought to the center in Little Kohler this spring. Photo by Bill Schanen IV