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McIntosh Perry

Curbing turtle road mortality

Road mortality directly impacts species survival. Losing the adult portion of the population has an enormous impact.

McIntosh Perry ecologists recently made news with a report presented to a City of Kingston committee regarding recommendations to help reduce road mortality for the city’s turtle population.

Matthew Wheeler, an ecologist with McIntosh Perry, was one of the leads on the report and attended the city meeting to present the findings and answer questions. He said the purpose of the report was to present a potential solution for a very concerning problem.

Wheeler said road mortality for turtles significantly impacts the population because the species has a unique life cycle highlighted by delayed maturity. Although turtles are generally long-lived, with some Snapping Turtles capable of living up to 100 years, there is a real lag in starting to contribute to the population. Some species don’t mature to the point of reproduction until well into their 20s – and that means any increase in turtle mortality beyond natural mortality rates of female turtles causes a direct hit to the population as a whole.

“Specifically with turtles, this is a huge issue,” Wheeler said. “Road mortality directly impacts species survival. Losing the adult portion of the population has an enormous impact.”

The report was brought before the city’s Environment, Infrastructure, Transportation and Policies Committee, drawing together information on turtle mortality and habitat in the city. In Ontario, seven of the eight native turtle species are considered at risk. Kingston plays host to six of those species.

McIntosh Perry ecologists were contacted to help the city investigate mitigation measures, on the heels of a presentation which The Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) made to the committee last spring. The presentation brought to light some dire wildlife mortality findings by Queen’s University students centred around four high-risk roads within the city.

From there, Wheeler said McIntosh Perry professionals studied the locations to document habitats, nests and any turtle remains. Previously-recorded data from the SCB combined with McIntosh Perry’s examination to highlight two sites within the City of Kingston which were deemed extremely high in road mortality for turtles: Highway 2 at Westbrook and Collins Creek, as well as Princess Street from the Ambassador Hotel to the bridge over the train tracks.  

“Both sites bisect large wetlands,” Wheeler said. “The roadway acts as an attractant for nesting females but actually fragments suitable habitat.”

There are cautionary turtle signs currently installed at both locations, but the report notes that it is challenging to determine the effectiveness of these signs during high-volume traffic and they do nothing to prevent turtles from accessing the roadways.

For that reason, the report went on to recommend that a 90 cm-angled top, modified chain link fence be installed at both sites to deter turtles from advancing onto the roadway. A portion of the fencing should also be buried below the soil surface, so turtles cannot dig underneath. Not only does this exceed the recommended height requirements of such fencing as regulated by the Ministry of Natural Resources, but it provides a permanent barrier.

“Fencing is a priority because dead turtles can’t reproduce,” Wheeler said. “It’s important to have exclusion measures to keep them off the roadway.”

Wheeler noted that traditionally, road ecology has been focused on reducing wildlife vehicle collisions between motorists and large animals such as deer or moose. He said the City of Kingston is on the cutting edge of road ecology to have commissioned a report identifying methods to reduce road mortality for turtle species.

Other areas have also embraced curbing road mortality for turtles, including a section of Highway 69 near Burwash, Ont., and the Long Point Causeway at Port Rowan, Ont., where wildlife fencing and culverts combine to allow turtles and small amphibians to access habitat on both sides of the causeway without the danger posed by fast-moving vehicles.

With many roadways fragmenting habitat, Wheeler said he’s glad that turtle and wildlife road mortality is becoming a topic of discussion.  

“It raises our level of awareness so we can effectively target areas of concern,” he said. Wheeler further noted that the examination of possible mitigation measures by local governments is essential to species survival. He credits the City of Kingston for being proactive in searching for steps to offset turtle road mortality.

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