By Ranger Steve Mueller
Seeing turtles sunning on logs is a joy. At times, a dozen line up on a log. When climbing onto a log, one often climbs on the turtle in front of it creating a row of several turtles propped on the backs of others. They appear like a row of fallen dominos as they warm in the sun.
When Karen and I canoe, turtles pay little attention to us unless we approach too closely. Maintaining a distance allows them to stay on their sun perch. Last week, we drove Chicago’s I-94’s ribbon of pavement that meanders through the city like a river. Turtles often cross ribbons of payment to reach wetlands or to find leg laying areas.
Finding a location for egg survival has become increasingly challenging. The increase in raccoons, skunks, and opossums has had negative impact on turtle egg survival. The increase of roads to serve our growing human population is a deadly challenge for turtle survival.
On I-94, three eastbound lanes were full and bottle-necked at a speed of 20 mph. A cement barrier was present to prevent vehicles from crossing into the on-coming west bound lanes. Traffic flow eastward improved and gained speed to 50 mph as we passed an on-ramp where cars were merging.
A large painted turtle with a shell about 10 inches from front to back was standing where the on-ramp joined with the traffic lane. Its legs and head were retracted into its shell. It faced the three travel lanes. If it proceeded across the three lanes, it is doubtful it would survive to reach the impassible cement center barrier.
I wanted to stop and rescue the turtle from certain death. If I returned it to the roadside vegetation, it might survive. There would be a good chance I would become roadkill if I tried to rescue the turtle so we drove on. Traffic was too heavy for even a large creature like me to enter the traffic lane. There have been many times I could safely rescue a turtle but this was not one of those times.
I made the decision to protect my life instead of the saving the turtles. I asked Karen if we should call 911. We thought the police would not respond so we did not. Perhaps I should have have made the call anyway. Saving a fellow denizen of nature niches is important during this era of turtle decline due to human population growth that is eliminating wetland habitats and requires more road building.
A study was conducted where rubber turtles were placed on a road shoulder. The researcher watched driver behavior. Six in 1000 drove onto the shoulder to deliberately kill the turtle. Some drivers stopped to rescue the turtle. Some people have what I refer to as a “reverence for life” and others do not.
Hunting and fishing licenses help maintain wildlife habitat and turtle survival. People kill turtles for food and laws regulate the take just like fishing and mammal take limits designed to maintain sustainable populations. I find great dismay in roadkill loss, whether it is people killed that we read about weekly or wildlife roadkill. It is such a wasteful death. The DNR attempts to maintain turtle populations from long term decline but it is an enormous, tenuous challenge. I have personally watched people go out their way to kill turtles just because they are present.
Encourage young children to appreciate turtles so they learn when it is appropriate to take turtles like fish or deer and to avoid killing roadside turtles just because they are present. Encourage a reverence for life. Help a turtle that is crossing the road but make sure you do not become roadkill.
Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at firstname.lastname@example.org – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.