Bog Turtle Survival Enhanced Due To Public Private Conservation Efforts

In a news cycle that often pits landowners against wildlife, a report in the New York Times details how landowners are working with government to help along an endangered species, in this case a small turtle.

The North American bog turtle, one of the rarest chelonians on the continent, has become the beneficiary of a public-private partnership created to help the turtle recover from decades of decline due primarily to development and habitat loss. The federal government has formed partnerships with private landowners that call for the landowners, mostly farmers, to rehabilitate marshy pastures to create habitat suitable for the bog turtle to thrive in. The sites, wet sedge meadows that are home to communities of specialized plants and animals can be found mostly in the limestone areas of Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey.

The Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture provide the landowners with the plans to promote what is called an open-canopy habitat that involves the removal of woody vegetation, protection against alterations to the hydrology of these areas, and prevention of regrowth by using livestock to graze the areas. This in turn helps to preserve bog turtle sites and the participants also benefit, as the government provides payment of up to $23,000 per acre for every acre that the participants restore, maintain, and protect. Enrollment in the programs, of which one of the most successful is the Wetlands Reserve Program, has grown to approximately 1,000 acres, and the landowners seem to enjoy what they are doing to preserve the species, the report said.

The numbers of these animals in seven northeastern and mid-Atlantic states have been reduced to half of what they were two decades ago, the report said, caused by habitat loss or fragmentation due to development. Some have also become victims of the illicit pet trade.

Endangered-species biologist Scott Smith, who works for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said in the report that the wetlands restoration programs are the best tool to ensure the bog turtle recovers. He said that suitable and enhanced habitat will ensure that the turtle colonizes the area, and the goal of the program is to create connectivity between sites so animals can cross into other areas to enhance the gene pool.

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