Hungry Goats: The Newest Tool For Bog Turtle Restoration
Bog turtle (Clemmys muhlenbergii). USFWS photo
Bog turtle

The bog turtle (Clemmys muhlenbergii), is a federally threatened species known to occur in Cecil, Harford, Baltimore, and Carroll counties of Maryland. Besides illegal collection for the pet trade, the primary threat to bog turtles is loss of the unique wetlands on which they depend. Bog turtles can be found in saturated, spring fed wetlands such as bogs, fens, wet meadows, sedge marshes and pastures with soft muddy areas. Development, shifts in land use, woody succession and invasive plant species all contribute to loss of bog turtle habitat.

It’s been hypothesized that, prior to settlement by Europeans, bog turtle wetlands were grazed by large herbivores such as bison, helping to maintain the open canopy and pockets of muddy substrate.

Photo of goat by Julie Slacum, USFWS
Photo of goat by Julie Slacum, USFWS

Over the last century, the abundance of bog turtles in pastured wetlands indicates that grazing has been instrumental in maintaining the openness of wetlands needed for habitat. In absence of grazing, most shallow wetlands give way to woody vegetation or dense thickets of exotic invasive plants like multiflora rose.

More than 97% of this habitat occurs on private lands, so recovery of the bog turtle depends on private landowners. Since 1997 habitat restoration has been carried out in 17 wetlands in Maryland totaling more than 150 acres.

Some bog turtle wetlands have been over grazed so restoration work included stream fencing, pasture management and creating other water resources for livestock. Other bog turtle wetlands have been overgrown with woody shrubs and small trees and invasive plants. Restoration requires labor intensive removal of this vegetation using mechanical and chemical treatment.

Biologists are trying a new method of maintaining wetlands using prescribed grazing. Cattle are most adept to graze on and control grasses. However, goats are woody vegetation specialists and were selected to control the young red maple trees and the invasive mutliflora rose threatening the open canopy and delicate wetland ecosystem required by bog turtles.

Nineteen goats were placed on a 5 acre bog turtle site in Carroll County to control unwanted vegetation. Goats performed vegetation management at the site from July 19th to September 19th 2008. Nine photo monitoring stations were established and photos taken approximately every 2 weeks. Five vegetation plots were established and data characterizing vegetation cover will be collected. If this proves to be effective, goats may be used on other bog turtle wetland sites to control unwanted woody trees and invasive plants.

Besides the private landowner, partners include the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Natural Resource Conservation Service, and Environmental Defense. The U.S. Department of Agriculture holds a permanent easement for the wetland portion of this property.

For more information contact:
Julie Slacum
Chesapeake Bay Field Office
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
177 Admiral Cochrane Drive
Annapolis MD 21401
410/573 4517

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