Forest preserve launches 'Adopt a Turtle' program
Kane Forest Preserve District launches 'Adopt a Turtle' program
Maybe it's the yellow chin. Or, the little bobblehead. Perhaps the bright speckles on the back. All in all, Blanding's turtles are endearing critters.
Maybe you're not convinced that "reptile" and "endearing" belong in the same sentence -- but you may be drawn to the effort to save these awesome turtles from the brink of extinction.
The Kane Forest Foundation has launched a new Adopt-a-Turtle program to support the recovery of the endangered Blanding's turtle in northern Illinois.
Funds raised by this program will allow the district to purchase field supplies, hire support staff, and further restoration management for this imperiled species.
But hang on, before you start painting the nursery. Adopting a Blanding's Turtle doesn't mean you'll be taking a turtle home.
It's illegal to remove turtles from the wild, and there's a serious penalty for possession of an endangered species.
Instead, this adoption program is a means of helping the species in the wild.
With this adoption program, parenting involves zero child care.
How it started
With the help and guidance of ecologists with the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, our staff was able to incubate 63 eggs for two months this summer in a carefully controlled facility.
Wildlife biologist Bill Graser of Kane County oversaw this process with the anxious anticipation of an expectant parent.
"It was exciting and nerve-racking," Graser said with a laugh. "After all the weeks of caring for the eggs, several nervous calls to colleagues in DuPage to be certain I was doing things right, the eggs started hatching." One, two, three … 63 in all. A 100 percent success rate.
"It was a gratifying experience to see all of the hatchlings emerge. We took measurements on the hatchlings and implanted a tiny tag (similar to ones used in pet dogs and cats) so we can identify them in future monitoring efforts to gauge the success of our conservation efforts. They were released in the wetlands where their mother resides."
Why it's threatened
Before we get to the adoption papers, a bit of background.
The Blanding's turtle is an endangered species in Illinois. It has been hit hard by loss of wetlands and the encroachment of development.
The species was listed as threatened in 1998. The continued decline in population bumped it to endangered species status in 2009.
The Blanding's turtle, like most turtles in Illinois, needs clean, still water in marshes, wet prairies, or shallow lakes.
Unlike other turtles, though, the Blanding's is not entirely aquatic. It needs more than just a good pond -- it needs a lot of room to roam on land.
"Blanding's turtles are known to move between different types of wetlands," explained Graser. "They nest in wetlands, then move across land and return to their overwintering sites."
Its penchant for rambling may have served the Blanding's well in the course of evolution, but that was before there were such things as asphalt parking lots and concrete highways.
Even on a slow traffic day, turtles don't fare well when crossing roadways. If it's turtle vs. tires, tires will win every time.
Blanding's turtles also face an abundance of nonhuman predators. Raccoon populations have skyrocketed in the past several decades, suburban skunks are having a heyday, and coyotes are always on the prowl.
The combined effect of these egg-snatching predators is devastation of turtle nests.
Blanding's are long-lived turtles, and some are reported to live upward of 70 years.
Here's the catch: they don't reach sexual maturity for 15 or more years. This means that populations don't rebound well after losses inflicted by predators or habitat destruction.
All of this adds up to a big challenge for the Blanding's Turtle as a species.
How 'adoption' helps
The Adopt-a-Turtle program is one of many regionwide efforts to preserve this key species.
By adopting a turtle and supporting the Blanding's recovery program, you can help Graser and his team track populations and determine priority sites for restoration in Kane County.
"We are still working to learn more about their distribution in Kane County and measuring population size and structure," Graser told me. "We've documented several new locations in Kane County in the last few years, which is a positive sign -- but we're still dealing with relatively small numbers of individuals. These populations are vulnerable to local extinction. Any time a turtle is lost to mortality, natural or human caused, it's a big loss to the population."
Specific steps in recovery and management include trapping, marking, and then tracking the turtles. This is where your help comes in. It costs money and time to carry out all these steps.
The money raised in the Adopt-a-Turtle Program will help offset the costs of hiring interns, purchasing equipment, and analyzing data.
All of these steps are prerequisites to land management decisions.
"We use the telemetry data to guide the timing and location of land management efforts to maximize the benefit to the turtles and other species while minimizing the chances of harming the turtles," explained Graser. All the data collected helps direct management decisions.
In the big picture, it's not just about one species. What we do to help the Blanding's Turtle helps an entire community of wildlife. Graser described the Blanding's turtle as an umbrella species.
"When we protect and improve habitat (for Blanding's turtles), many other species reap the benefits, too. If you have a Blanding's population that is doing well, other wildlife will be doing well."
You can choose from several adoption options.
At the "Team Turtle" level (donation of $115), you will receive a certificate of adoption, naming rights for your turtle, a photo of your little guy (or gal), a Blanding's turtle hat, a sew-on turtle patch, website acknowledgment, and updates about Blanding's Turtle conservation.
At the "Blanding's Backer" level ($75), you will get a certificate of adoption, a photo of your turtle, a sew-on turtle patch, and website acknowledgment of your gift.
With a donation of any amount, you will become a "Blanding's Buddy." Buddies will be acknowledged on the website.
At any and all levels, you will get the warm fuzzy feelings of helping an endangered species, and the tiny turtles will get a leg up for their life's journey.
Adoption "papers" can be found at kaneforest.com/flyers/AATFlyer.pdf.
What are you waiting for? Parenting a Blanding's Turtle could be the best thing that's happened to you today, and it can be the best thing that ever happens in a little turtle's long life.
• Valerie Blaine is the Nature Programs Manager for the Forest Preserve District of Kane County. She and her husband are the proud parents of "Harvey," their newly adopted Blanding's turtle in Kane County. You may reach her at email@example.com.