As summer adventurers make their way across Wisconsin, the Department of Natural Resources is asking drivers to watch for turtles on their own roadway journey.
Through the Wisconsin Turtle Conservation Program, the DNR is collecting citizen data to better locate “turtle crossing hotspots,” said Andrew Badje, project coordinator and conservation biologist with the DNR. Drivers and passengers are being asked to submit their observations of turtle crossings, species and deaths or injuries to help the department track observations to assist the department and other agencies.
Badje said data will be passed on to environmental specialists, who work with road managers to alleviate road-crossing dangers for the turtles. The data can also help the DNR with management and conservation.
“It’s a pretty cool project helping the DNR a lot,” Badje said.
In the past four years, 1,021 turtle crossings have been reported by more than 1,000 Wisconsin observers, according to the DNR.
Drivers can anticipate more turtle traffic within the next few weeks, Badje said, as larger female turtles are beginning treks from wetlands to drier environments to nest.
“Most of the road mortalities are the females that are getting ready to lay eggs,” Badje said.
Male and smaller turtles will also be crossing in search of food and general turtle movement reasons.
Residents and drivers are also asking to help the DNR track species through the reporting, Badje said, especially with threatened or protected kinds.
In Chippewa Falls, residents should report — among other sightings — the wood turtle and the previously-threatened, now-protected Blanding’s turtle to the DNR. The Chippewa Falls area is just within range for the wood turtle, Badje said.
Badje described the Blanding’s turtle as having speckled, army helmet-like shells. They have a bright yellow chin and also look as if they are constantly smiling. Though similar, wood turtles have an orange-to-red throat, and the shell has patterns that mimic tree rings.
Drivers will also see more frogs, toads, snakes and other reptiles and amphibians on roadways, especially as summer rains and cooling sunset temperatures make asphalt an idyllic resting spot.
Badje urged roadway users to use caution when coming across a turtle or other animals. While he advised against swerving or moving into traffic, Badje suggested when it’s safe to pull over with hazard lights on, and to only get out of a vehicle and go into the road when no other vehicles are around.
Those who want to help move the turtles, Badje said, should do so by lifting the turtle at its shell, rather than by the tail, as tail lifts can damage a turtle’s spine.
More dangerous than your run-of-the-mill turtle, snapping turtles can be moved by sliding a piece of cardboard or car mat underneath the animal, and dragging it across the roadway. But, be careful not to drag the animal on the asphalt to avoid road rash, Badje said.
And if anything, don’t turn a turtle around away from its destination. Badje described turtles as stubborn creatures who will keep trying to cross the road, even after being put back to the side they started on.
Should a turtle get hit or drivers come upon injured turtles, Badje recommended calling local wildlife rehabilitation centers.
In Colfax, Patti Stangel, founder and operator of Wildlife Rehabilitation and Release, works with 30 veterinarians to serve 20 counties. She had more than 1,100 animals come into her center last year, including turtles.
Stangel said she recently had to have a snapping turtle euthanized because it was injured with no hope for recovery.
But with those that can be saved, Stangel said dental materials are used to repair the mammals’ shells because the substance is waterproof.
“(We) can usually manage to fix the shells,” Stangel said. “It depends on how badly the damage is, because that shell is all tissue.”
Turtle rehab can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, Stangel said, with some having to spend a winter vacation in her center until warmer temperatures allow her to release them into the wild. Age, appetite and other factors can also interfere or assist with a turtle’s recovery, she added.
If an animal is unable to recover or cannot survive in the wild on its own, Stangel said they are euthanized, calling the process a release in its own way.
Chippewa Valley residents who hit a turtle or stumble upon one with an injury can call Stangel at 715-832-1462 to arrange a pick-up. More rehabilitation centers can be found by searching on the DNR’s website at www.dnr.wi.gov.
To report to the Wisconsin Turtle Conservation Program, visit http://wiatri.net/inventory/witurtles/.