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Ornate Box Turtle Habitat Restoration

Turtles For Tomorrow’s ongoing volunteer habitat restoration work continued in 2018.  Our stewardship involved on the ground work on 42 days, an accumulated 339 hours of actual management, averaging 8 hours per site visit.  Much of the work involved the removal of exotic plants, and the thinning of native plants and trees, from the 76-acre portion of the site that we manage.  Our goal is to improve habitat diversity and quality. We manage this for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources under the State Natural Areas Program within the Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation.  See photos 1-5.

1. Thinning of Black Oak brush in early 2018.
2. Burning of Oak brush after the second April, 2018 snow fall.
3.Burn pile after late April, 2018 snow fall. The trees in the background will be cut in late fall and winter of 2018.
4. Summer view of landscape after Black Oak brush and tree thinning.
5. Opening up the canopy and heavy spring rains in 2018 produced a major Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis) bloom. This succulent plant is part of the diet of Ornate Box Turtles due to its high water content.

The recent higher moisture summers of late have caused Sumac trees Rhus sp, a clonal species, to take advantage of our Black Oak thinning efforts.  This sun-loving species has literally exploded in several areas on the site, and measures were initiated in the fall of 2018 to experimentally thin this species, a first at this location.  Photos 6 and 7 show our before and after results. We are uncertain what we will see as a response to our cutting in the spring of 2019.

6. Large Sumac clone in September, 2018
7. Sumac clone after cutting and cut stem treatment.

Highlights for 2018


This was another very busy year for the Wood Turtle nest site program.  Three new nesting sites were created in 2018 and two older nesting sites were equipped with electric fences (see Photos 1to 5).

1. New nest site created in spring 2018 in Bayfield County.
2. Newly constructed nest site in Taylor County in May, 2018.
3. A second new nest site in spring, 2018 in Taylor County.
4. Nest site constructed in Florence County in 2011 that was fenced in May, 2018.
5. Florence County nest site equipped in 2018 with an electric fence.

Turtles For Tomorrow now has 25 nest sites, 24 that are equipped with electric fences, across nine northern Wisconsin counties.

Hatching success rates for Wood Turtles in 2018 were the best to date.  A warm spring for northern Wisconsin in 2018, coupled with a warm summer and less rain, was also key to producing the highest number of Wood Turtle hatchlings for the program, although this could be expected since we had five more sites with electric fences operating in 2018.See Table 1.

Table 1. Results of four nest sites heavily monitored from June to early October since 2015 (G. Kessler).

We also had some unexpected issues at one nest site in Marinette County due to two major flood events, one in late April following a major snow storm and a rapid melt down, and the other in October of 2018 after a major rain event hit NE Wisconsin.  The most frustrating part of this was the fact that we had recently finished major repairs to this site in the fall of 2017 and spring of 2018 that were required after three major flood events, one in 2016 and two in 2017. The following pictures (Photos 6 and 7) show some minor damage to the site in spring of 2018 and major damage to the human fence after it had been moved further away from the river by the fall 2018 flood.

6. Flooding in 2018 prior to moving the human exclosure fence away from the river. The fall flood was much worse.
7. Flood damage from the October 2018 flood after moving the human exclosure fence further away from the river.

This required us to rebuild the river side bank to re-support the human fence. We then began construction of a long retaining wall (Photos 8, 9 and 10).

Photo 8. Rebuilding of the bank to support the human fence.
Photo 9. Initial stages of constructing a new retaining wall.
Photo 10. Retaining wall installation to date. The wall will be completed in the spring of 2019.