Perks come with adopting a turtle in Lake County
Though told no presents were necessary, Maureen Clausen wanted to get her father something different for his milestone 80th birthday.
Her unexpected but welcomed choice combines charity and novelty. Howard Minkoff of Arlington Heights is now a Turtle Champion, thanks to Clausen's $120 contribution to the Preservation Foundation of the Lake County Forest Preserves.
"He was so just so pleased," Clausen said.
Being a participant in the new Adopt-a-Turtle initiative to protect and grow the endangered Blanding's turtle population comes with other perks, including naming rights.
So a yellow-chinned turtle named Zadie, an affectionate term for grandfather, is roaming the marshes of what is known as the Lake Plain, an expansive Wetland of National Importance straddling far northeastern Illinois and southeastern Wisconsin. Zadie is equipped with a radio transmitter and when located and measured during routine monitoring, Minkoff will get an update.
He also will receive a picture of the turtle's unique underside marking, known as a plastron, and a behind-the-scenes tour of the district's "head starting" program for young turtles.
"Though it's still a donation, it's something he can follow," said Clausen, who became aware of the program through her job with the forest preserve district. "He was really excited about it."
The forest district is spreading the word. An image of a Blanding's turtle dominates the cover of the most recent edition of Horizons, the forest district newsletter, mailed this past weekend to about 33,000 households.
"It's the first time we've issued a broad appeal to the constituencies that value the forest preserves," said Rebekah Snyder, executive director of the preservation foundation, which is coordinating the program.
And Monday, in honor of World Turtle Day, visitors can learn how to protect turtles and tortoises and their habitats, meet some of the hatchlings and go on a scavenger hunt hike during an educational program at Middlefork Savanna Forest Preserve in Lake Forest.
Adopt-a-Turtle was considered a natural to raise general awareness of the foundation and opportunities for residents to support the forest district by contributing or volunteering, Snyder said.
The goal is to raise $12,000 by Sept. 1. Funds will support the Blanding's Turtle Recovery Program, established by the district in 2010 after years of data showed few hatchlings made it through a full year and adult survival was below the level required to sustain a long-term population.
To help the population replenish itself naturally, the district tracks turtles to determine their range and locations, works with partners such as the Illinois and Wisconsin departments of natural resources to protect habitats, and holds turtle hatchlings in captivity until they are past the point of excessive attack by predators.
"It's pretty labor-intensive," said wildlife biologist Gary Glowacki. Blanding's turtles are part of the natural history of the Chicago region and are a good "umbrella" species, meaning it is symbolic of threats faced by other species.
Since 2004, 855 individual turtles have been marked and documented in two monitoring areas within the Lake Plain.
In February, the Blanding's turtle was selected by Chicago Wilderness, a regional conservation alliance, as one of 12 priority species to be championed through coordinated actions. The organization is working with the Lake County Forest Preserve District to improve the Blanding's health and habitats during the next five years.
Glowacki said the population is growing and he's seeing more juvenile turtles than in the past.
"We can raise a bunch of cute baby turtles, but ultimately we want to take a hands-off approach," he said.