Newsroom Midwest Region

States tracking turtles

May 23, 2016

Ornate box turtle. Photo by Jessica Piispanen/USFWS.
Ornate box turtle. Photo by Jessica Piispanen/USFWS.

What do you look for in a house? Hopefully, it would have a roof and walls to protect you, a bedroom to rest your head and a community to fulfill your daily requirements. If you are a turtle, your home consists of soft sandy or gravel soil to lay a nest, adjacent habitat that is protected from predators and a variety of food- insects, berries, earthworms, mollusks, mushrooms.

Life for turtles is getting harder. Challenges of surviving are increasing whether it’s loss of habitat, road mortality or nest predation. Wood, smooth softshell and ornate box turtles, along with other important turtles are getting help through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s State Wildlife Grant program.

State fish and wildlife agencies in Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa and Minnesota are using federal funds to track and protect these turtles. Species of Greatest Conservation Need are identified in each state’s wildlife action plan. These species have low and/or declining populations and are in need of conservation action. State’s apply for State Wildlife Grant funding to address conservation needs such as research, surveys, species and habitat management and monitoring.

“These annual grants offer state agencies the opportunity to work on safeguarding fish and wildlife that are specified as state priorities,” explains Jessica Piispanen, Service’s Midwest Regional Fish and Wildlife Biologist for the State Wildlife Grant Program.

The Upper Midwest Riverine Turtle Habitat Improvement project was initially funded in 2014 to improve nesting success, reduce adult turtle mortality, improve turtle habitat in river and stream corridors and assess the effectiveness of conservation actions conducted in all four states. With successful results, including significantly decreased mortality at protected nest sites and new nesting documented at 50 percent of restored sites, three states applied for a Phase 2 project, which was awarded in 2016. Learn more:

The Phase 2 project is a collaborative effort between Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota. It focuses on continuing management of existing nest areas, identifying and protecting new nest areas and monitoring and sharing results of active management activities.

“The Service funded the Phase 2 project because it expands turtle conservation on a landscape scale while using adaptive management strategies, continuing to address issues identified in the states’ recently revised State Wildlife Action Plans,” continued Piispanen.

By supporting Species of Greatest Conservation Need, in this case turtles, the Service and state agencies are on track for better understanding and conservation of important turtle habitat.