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A Western Painted Turtle basks in the sunshine of an early spring afternoon. Photo by Tom Lindfors.

Give a turtle a helping hand

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Starting today, you can make a difference in the lives of turtles by participating in the new Citizen-based Turtle Monitoring Project.

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In 2004, the WDNR partnered with the Wisconsin Citizen-based Monitoring Network to provide funding and assistance to encourage citizen and volunteer participation in natural resource monitoring.

Their goal was not only to expand public participation but also to multiply the capacity of the DNR by employing public ears and eyes.

"Citizen-based monitoring engages and informs thousands of citizens and students across the state every year and empowers them to directly contribute to the conservation of Wisconsin's natural heritage," said Owen Boyle, DNR coordinator for the Citizen-based Monitoring Program.

Funding proposals are limited to $5,000. For every dollar DNR spends on Citizen-based Monitoring, the state receives more than $3 worth of volunteer time and natural resource data. Since 2004, 180 projects have benefited from $850,000 of funding.

Every child learns Aesop's Fable about the tortoise and the hare. Everyone's seen how slowly turtles cross the road. Turns out turtles are also slow when it comes to growing up. A turtle typical to Wisconsin, the Blandings turtle, takes up to 18 years to reach reproductive maturity.

According to the Blair Society, a group that monitors and studies vertebrates across the United States including turtles, tens of thousands of turtles are killed crossing roads every year and many of those are females looking for nesting sites in the spring.

When you add to the equation, the overall decrease in the amount of suitable habitat (wetlands, marshes etc.), the degradation of that habitat and the fragmentation of it by roads and other obstacles, turtles captured for pets and more for soup and shoes, you can begin to appreciate why turtles are in trouble.

The overall loss of large predators has lead to a surplus of small predators (skunks, foxes, racoons) and that translates into 80-90% of turtle nests being depredated within the first 24 hrs of eggs being laid. After all the math, that means one out of two to three hundred eggs ever make it to maturity. So the loss of every reproductive age turtle really impacts the local population of the species.

It's time to do your part. It's starts with driving more attentively especially right now as turtles begin to search out nesting sites in mid May. When you stop to assist a crossing turtle, place him or her on the side of the road they were facing, the direction they were moving to avoid making them attempt the crossing again.

Also, remember it is illegal to collect any species of turtle, dead or alive, between Nov. 30 and July 15. Wisconsin is home to 11 species of turtles of which five are experiencing population problems according to the Environmental News Service. The Blandings turtle tops the list.

The goal of the turtle monitoring program is to detect high turtle crossing mortality areas throughout the state and to begin to the placement of turtle road crossing signs and the implementation of wildlife friendly underpasses. To report turtle sightings follow these simple steps:

1. Visit the Wisconsin Turtle Conservaiton Program Website - http://wiatri.net/inventory/witurtles/

2. Click on the "Volunteer" tab and then select "Enter WTCP Data".

3. This will take you through a short step-by-step process of how to enter your data.

4. Enter your data and upload any photos you may have taken.

5. Click "submit" (You're done!)

6. You can also download a physical copy of the report form from the website if you'd prefer to mail in your copy.

Mail your hard copies to: (if not submitting online) Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resource; Bureau of Endangered Resources ER/6; Wisconsin Turtle Conservation Program, P.O. Box 7921, Madison, WI 53707-7921.

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