Chesapeake Bay Field Office -- Bog Turtles (graphic)

Would you be willing to stick your arm into swamp muck and blindly dig around for turtles, while warding off snakes, wolf spiders and ticks? Finding the elusive bog turtle in the squishy muck of Maryland’s swamps and bogs is no easy feat!

Bog turtle -  The bog turtle is a federally threatened species under the 1997 Endangered Species Act, and is restricted to seven states along the Atlantic coast, from Massachusetts to Maryland. In Maryland, bog turtles remain in four counties: Cecil, Harford, Carroll and Baltimore. - USFWS photoBog Turtles in Maryland

Committed to protecting the federally threatened bog turtle, biologists with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Environment Defense, and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service are working to conserve bog turtles and restore bog turtle habitat in Maryland.

Bog turtles live in freshwater bogs, fens, wet meadows, marshes, spring seeps, and wet cow pastures. These types of wetlands have very few trees and shrubs, but instead are periodically flooded with water and have patches of grassy vegetation. Tussocks and dry islands are used for basking and laying eggs, while water channels and runways under tussock mats are used for moving and hiding from predators.


Habitat Loss

Historically, these wetlands were naturally maintained through periodic flooding, fire, beaver activities, and grazing of large animals such as elk and bison. Altering wetland habitat by building ponds, installing drainage ditches, and filling wetlands for agricultural or urban/suburban development has dramatically degraded bog turtle habitat. More recently, these wetlands were maintained by cows grazing in these wet pastures.
Bog - USFWS photo
Bog turtle habitat - USFWS photo  

Removing cows and other elements that keep an open, sunny pasture has allowed trees and shrubs to invade these sites. And in the case of bog turtles, trees can be bad because they eliminate the open canopy bog turtles require. Multiflora rose and red maple are two invasive species that commonly invade bog turtle habitat, shading grasses and sedges and absorbing water, altering the natural vegetation community. Invasive plants easily out-compete native plants because they absorb and transpire more water than the existing emergent vegetation.

Wetland Restoration in Maryland

As time passes, both multiflora rose and red maple become more aggressive and increasingly more difficult to manage. Since most bog turtles live on private lands, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is working with state agencies and non-profit conservation organizations to help private landowners restore bog turtle habitat.

Habitat restoration - Biologists used heavy machinery to remove multiflora rose, an invasive species impacting bog turtle wetlands. USFWS photoIn part of our collaborative effort to ensure continued species survival, we are currently working with Mr. Wilson to restore 1.5 acres of wetlands on his land in Harford County, Maryland. First, biologists used machinery to remove woody vegetation that was choking out native wetland plants. We also installed a fence for Mr. Wilson’s ponies. Not only will the ponies have more pasture to graze, but allowing the ponies to graze the wetlands during the dry season will break up root mats of any woody vegetation that tries to establish itself. We will return to the farm in the spring and spray an herbicide to control the multiflora rose and red maple that comes back.

Mr. Wilson is one of 15 landowners we are currently working with to conserve bog turtles and restore bog turtle wetlands. It is because of volunteer landowners like Mr. Wilson that we can work towards recovery and help bog turtles thrive for generations to come.

Special Acknowledgements

We at the Chesapeake Bay Field Office would like to acknowledge the following partners who were instrumental in restoring habitat on Mr. Wilson’s farm. Thank you for all of your hard work!

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Pennsylvania Field Office - Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program

New York Field Office - Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program

West Chesapeake Bay Field Office - Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program

Delaware Bay Estuary Program

Maryland Department of Natural Resources Heritage Program

Environmental Defense

For more information:

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Endangered Species Program

Maryland Department of Natural Resources Bog Turtle Research Pathfinder

Environmental Defense Back From the Brink