The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 28, 2010

Officials visit Carlisle on search for safer turtle crossings


Tim Dexter of Mass DOT (in hard hat) speaks with area town conservation commissioners interested in improving wildlife safety where roads intersect habitat areas. On right is Carlisle’s Tom Brownrigg. (Photo by Sylvia Willard)

Crossing the road is hazardous for humans but can be especially difficult for turtles, salamanders and small animals. Making movement across roads safe for small animals such as turtles was the subject of a recent meeting in Concord by the SuAsCoShaw Watershed Network, after which the group took a field trip to Carlisle to observe known turtle crossing sites, such as Maple Street near Greenough Pond.

The SuAsCoShaw organization is made up of conservation commission representatives from towns located in the watersheds of the Sudbury, Assabet, Concord and Shawsheen Rivers. At their meeting on May 20, they discussed a project called Linking Landscapes for Massachusetts Wildlife. “Basically, it’s a cooperative effort between the Massachusetts Department of Transportation,” and other groups, explained Carlisle Conservation Commission (ConsCom) member Tom Brownrigg. Turtles are a particular focus. “They are looking for people to volunteer to go to roads that have high turtle mortality rates, and report” on turtles that have been hit by cars.

A variety of wildlife habitats in Carlisle are intersected by roads – both busy commuter routes like Bedford Road as well as quieter roads such as Maple or Russell Street. Brownrigg, who joined the SuAsCoShaw expedition last week, said the crossing by the Greenough Pond is a “known hot spot” for turtle fatalities. When the Mosquito visited the same area two days later, a family of geese with a fluffy baby in tow cautiously crossed the street as a bicyclist flew by, the bike swerving as the birds hesitated in the middle of the street. This past week, there have been several turtle sightings on Carlisle roads. On Monday afternoon, a foot-long snapping turtle and a smaller painted turtle, were seen crossing the dirt road at Foss Farm near the pony ring.

Brownrigg said they located a dead spotted turtle during their group visit. It is currently mating season and turtles are on the move. Soon it will be nesting time, and the females will be searching for sandy ground in which to lay their eggs. “I often see turtle eggs on Maple Street,” said Brownrigg. At the end of the summer, the turtles will be hatching, and on the move again.

There is a lot of interest in Carlisle in keeping turtles safe, he added. He noted the homemade signs on Russell Street, made by Carlisle fifth-grader Claire Brandhorst (see photo). She devised a clever way to slow people traveling in turtle hot spots by creating a series of eye-catching “turtle crossing” signs in the style of the old-fashioned Burma Shave signs.

There may not be an easy solution for all locations. After visiting Maple Street the Mosquito came across a huge (flattened) snapping turtle by Seawright’s Daylilies on Bedford Road. Brownrigg said different strategies to reduce crossing mortality were discussed, such as installing “a silt fence to redirect them away from the road.” He said another goal would be to “design a culvert or bridge that would make it more difficult for turtles to cross the road.” He suggested that sandy areas be created to encourage turtles to nest close to their source of water.

The Linking Landscapes program is building a statewide turtle road-kill database, using input from Massachusetts residents. The program is a collaborative effort between the Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program (NHESP) and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, in conjunction with UMass and the Vernal Pool Association, to find inexpensive solutions to the problem of wildlife deaths due to road crossings.

Claire Brandhorst made these signs on Russell Street. (Photo by Cynthia Sorn)

How to help survey wildlife crossings

Linking Landscapes is asking volunteers to identify a turtle crossing site and visit it once during May, twice in June, and once in September. In addition, volunteers are asked to photograph any turtles found (dead or alive) and send in details about their findings. Volunteers are asked to remove dead turtles after recording their data so they will not be counted in later surveys. The goal is to develop recommendations on how to mitigate fatalities for turtles and other small wildlife.

According to Brownrigg, “The survey is more aimed at finding out where the trouble spots are, and then the next step is to try to provide recommendations or structures to keep turtles from the road.” For more information, or to volunteer, call the ConsCom office at 1-978-369-0336 or see: ∆

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