Landowners lend a hand to North America’s tiniest turtle
For two summers, Maggie Creshkoff struggled through her farm fields with a backpack of Roundup, desperately trying to cut back the thorny, bloodletting multiflora rose that choked the winding stream and stretched more than 6 feet skyward in the fields.
“Every time, all I got was a fistful of blisters and a sunburn, and I was ready to cry,” says Creshkoff, a Maryland resident. “So when U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service called with an offer to help, I listened.”
The Service’s Chesapeake Bay Field Office told Creshkoff about the Wetlands Reserve Program, a partnership with the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service that offers landowners the voluntary opportunity to protect, restore and enhance wetlands on their properties.
“Maggie has bog turtles on her property, which are protected by the federal Endangered Species Act,” says Julie Thompson with the field office. “By working with her to improve her wetlands, we also enhanced the home for North America’s tiniest turtle in need.”
Thompson and her coworkers spent much time with Creshkoff, outlining plans for funded stream cleanup and habitat management for the threatened turtle. During the past 6 years, skilled workers have killed the invasive vegetative growth, cleared the stream and restored the area. As Creshkoff’s own desire grew to protect the property from encroaching development, the Wetlands Reserve Program provided the easement plan to allow permanent protection of the turtle habitat.
“I’m always happy to see the Conservation folks,” Creshkoff says. “They care about the land just as much as I do.”
Working for bog turtles across Maryland
The Service has worked for 10 years with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Environmental Defense Fund and landowners to protect land and manage habitat for these northern bog turtles.
The turtles face loss, degradation and fragmentation of their homes from a variety of threats--wetland alteration, development, pollution, non-native plant invasion and advanced growth of plants. Fire and grazing historically maintained the open, young, bog-like wetlands required by this animal.
“Bog turtles are a species that truly require interdisciplinary knowledge, including wildlife ecology, wetlands ecology, and grazing systems, for long-term sustainability,” says biologist Steve Strano with the Maryland NRCS. “The federal and state partnership allows us to address the technical, funding and implementation needs required to get this work done on the ground.”
This partnership, known as the Maryland Bog Turtle Partnership, has conducted restoration at 27 sites on private lands and has permanently protected six sites through the Wetlands Reserve Program and two sites through the Maryland State Highway Administration.
“This group has produced a positive synergy of bog turtle conservation that no one agency could have achieved alone,” says Scott Smith of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife and Heritage Program. “It has accentuated the strengths and talents of each respective agency in its unique role and has been a great benefit to bog turtles, their wetland habitats, and the private landowners who are the ultimate stewards of this trust resource.”
In Maryland and other states, bog turtles are most often found on private lands. These need long-term maintenance to prevent or address advanced growth of woody vegetation and encroachment by invasive exotic species, Thompson says.
On Deb English’s horse farm, the solution was grazing by sheep and goats. The abundance of bog turtles in pastured wetlands like those on English’s farm suggests that grazing has historically maintained the openness of wetlands needed for habitat. English and her family worked with the Maryland Bog Turtle Partnership to improve a section of their farm for the turtles.
“These individuals have spent countless hours working with us to delineate bog turtle habitat and to survey the turtle population,” says English. “I’m proud to see this important program expand and continue well into the future.”
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