Ornate Box Turtle Program
Oak barrens and prairie management continued on a State Natural Area SNA) owned by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources that supports the state-endangered Ornate Box Turtle. Turtles For Tomorrow is the official volunteer steward of the property. The goal of our work is to establish a diverse native plant community that provides a variety of habitat structure for wildlife, especially for species that are dependent on barrens and dry prairie habitat, including the Ornate Box Turtle. Volunteers contributed 278 hours of labor in 2015, bringing the total volunteer management time spent on the site since 2012 to 1,000 hours. Efforts focused on Black Oak brush and tree thinning and Honeysuckle removal during the winter months. The work shifted to Spotted Knapweed control and the girdling of Quaking Aspen trees in spring and summer, along with foliar spraying of young honeysuckle seedlings. Fall work involved the treatment of young Aspen clones, more Honeysuckle eradication and then Black Oak thinning, all on a 40-acre portion of the property. Our hope is to get this critical area within the SNA to a point where our work primarily involves the maintenance of restored habitat conditions, and this is likely to require another two to three additional years of work. Funds are needed to cover expenses such as equipment repair, gas and oil, and to help offset vehicle gas cost (2,880 miles driven for this work in 2015) (Total annual need-$1,200- includes cost of equipment parts-saw blades and chains, gas for equipment and vehicles, and equipment repairs and maintenance).
Wood Turtle Nest Site Program Highlights
Two new nesting sites were created to 2015 in Douglas County in northwestern Wisconsin. Of the 16 total nesting sites that have been created or restored, 11 are equipped with electric fences. Management of all 16 sites was conducted this year to reduce or eliminate vegetation from the sites, a strategy that makes nesting by female turtles easier and also helps reduce the chance of root penetration into the eggs.
Intensive nest site monitoring was conducted in 2015 on four nest sites that are equipped with electric fences. These four site contained 18 Wood Turtle nests that were laid in June. Hatching occurred from mid-August through late early October and a minimum of 132 hatchling emerged on their own. Prior to the creation of these fenced nest sites, the landowners in these areas had not observed a nest that lasted more than a couple days before predators dug up and consumed the eggs. This data has helped quantify the effectiveness of electrical fence use at nest sites. We now have proof that our efforts are achieving the desired goal of significantly improving nesting success; a goal that is essential if we hope to see the recovery of this threatened turtle. None of the other seven fenced nest sites experienced predation in 2015, and the majority of them produced Wood Turtle hatchlings, although individual hatchling numbers were not obtained. We are excited and optimistic about the future of this program. Plans for 2016 include the creation of three additional electric fenced sites, two in Bayfield County and one in Marinette County.
In 2015 we began a 5-year camera monitoring study to compare nest sites that have electric fences to those that are currently unfenced. During the nesting season we generated over 137,000 photos using time lapse and infrared motion detection. The electric fenced sites had no predators enter them this year, while the unfenced sites had multiple predators during many days of monitoring, especially during the June nesting season. This study will continue through 2019, comparing results of sites that will receive electric fences after being monitored without fences, and will also provide a longer picture to determine whether fenced sites continue to be effective over time.
Blanding’s Turtles Telemetry Program Accomplishments
This is Year 3 of this study and the turtle movements continue to challenge the tracking crew. After losing eight turtles to predators and lost transmitters in 2013 and 2014, this year started with 11 headstarted Blanding’s turtles. Some of these remaining turtles moved into habitats that were difficult, if not impossible, to access by foot or by boat. It was to become clear that determining the long-term success of headstarting may not be practical. Two more mortalities occurred during the 2015 field season and the transmitters of three turtles could not be switched out in the fall due to habitat inaccessibility. By the end of the field season only six or the original 19 turtles could be accounted for. In 2016, given the fact that we could not account for 33% of the headstarted turtles by the end of 2015 (3 of 9 potential survivors), we decided to switch our study to comparing short-term survival rates of hatchlings verses headstarted turtles.