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Partnerships in Pennsylvania Protect the Bog Turtle and Other Threatened Species at Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge
Photo Credit: Rosie Walunas, USFWS
Cherry Valley in Pennsylvania is home to rare ecosystems and several plants and animals protected under the Endangered Species Act. The area is only 75 miles (121 kilometers) from Philadelphia and New York City—but a world apart in its landscape and habitat
"There are a lot of unique habitats in the valley," says Mike Horne, Refuge Manager for Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge. "Those habitats include fens, which are freshwater wetlands found in areas where there is limestone geology. Those are areas where you'd typically find populations of unique flora and fauna."
One of the unique species that is a fan of the fens is the bog turtle (Clemmys [Glyptemys] muhlenbergii). These turtles need a habitat of sunny, spring-fed wetlands and scattered dry areas where they can bask, forage for food, nest, hibernate and seek shelter.
Unfortunately, this type of habitat is disappearing as development fragments wetlands or causes it to disappear altogether. To help protect the turtle and its habitat, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service created the Cherry Valley refuge in 2008—an idea that was actually proposed by the community. Since then, the Service has worked with the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge Partnership, Friends of Cherry Valley, and local residents to acquire property from willing landowners within the refuge boundary. The partnership extends to entities that protect a significant amount of conservation land in and around the refuge, including The Nature Conservancy, the National Park Service and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
In fact, in May 2013, the Service and other partners announced the use of Palmerton Zinc natural resource damages settlement to acquire 90 acres and add even more bog turtle habitat to the refuge.
"Cherry Valley is probably one of the premier areas that support bog turtle populations in its entire range," says Horne. "Since part of the mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is to work to stabilize populations of threatened and endangered species and potentially expand their populations, the refuge in Cherry Valley fits in very well with that goal."
The bog turtle is the smallest of the turtles, measuring only three to four inches (seven to 10 centimeters). An adult bog turtle would fit in the palm of your hand. They are easily identified by their black- or mahogany-colored shells and bright yellow-orange markings on both sides of the head.
Sadly, its compact size and appearance have made it a target for poachers who illegally sell the animals as pets.
Poaching and loss of habitat are the main reasons that the bog turtle has been protected under the Endangered Species Act since 1997, when it was federally listed as a threatened species.
In addition to protecting bog turtles from poachers and loss of habitat, biologists, partner organizations and volunteers conduct a mark-recapture study and track turtle movements through radio telemetry.
For all the partners involved in protecting the bog turtle and other species in Cherry Valley, it's a labor of love.
"I've worked over 30 years for The Nature Conservancy, and I've found that lots of people don't really start appreciating what they have until it's on the verge of disappearing," said Bud Cook, a senior project manager for The Nature Conservancy in northeastern Pennsylvania. "And that's very different in Cherry Valley, where people know they have something really special."
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