Glenbard East students work to save endangered species in DuPage
Two recent Glenbard East graduates, Tiana Innis and Aubrey Wendorff, had a rare opportunity to play a crucial role in a major conservation effort happening in DuPage County.
The Blanding's turtle, also known as Emydoidea blandingii, is a rare native resident in the marshy wetlands of Illinois. The Blanding's is on the state endangered species list in Illinois, and it is under review to be added to the federal list. Several factors have contributed to this endangered status, but habitat loss and fragmentation are the primary driving forces behind the diminishing numbers of this animal in DuPage County.
Since 1996, the DuPage County Forest Preserve District has conducted an extensive reintroduction program to help bring the Blanding's Turtle back from the brink of extinction. Referred to as "head starting," gravid, or pregnant, females are caught in the wild and kept in a captive breeding environment until they lay eggs. Unlike some other species of animals, turtles exhibit virtually no parental care once the eggs are laid, so the adult females are returned to the wild shortly after their clutch is produced. However, the eggs are kept in incubators at pre-set temperatures, and after the turtles hatch they are cared for with minimal human interaction until one year of age, when they are released at various preserves throughout DuPage County.
For the last 10 years, Glenbard East Advanced Placement Environmental Science students have partnered with the DuPage County Forest Preserve District to participate in a unique field experience in which the students analyze and evaluate Hidden Lake Forest Preserve to determine if it is viable for reintroduction of the juvenile Blanding's Turtles. Dan Thompson, chief ecologist on the project, has worked with the students along with naturalists from Willowbrook Wildlife Refuge to help make this field experience impactful.
This year, however, students had a unique opportunity to present their findings from the field experience to the DuPage County Forest Preserve District Board of Commissioners on Aug. 10. Innis and Wendorff were selected to share their findings and insights from their research that they conducted during the 20201-21 school year. They also discussed with the board how this experience has shaped their respective desires to pursue college majors in wildlife biology and ecology. In addition, they talked about the important role that field experiences play in raising awareness about how human impact is affecting native biodiversity of local species throughout DuPage County and why conservation programs like the Blanding's Head Start program are so important.