Road signs to help Maine's endangered turtles

The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, in conjunction with the Nature Conservancy, is asking motorists in southern York County to be aware of rare turtles crossing area roads and watch for new road signs alerting motorists to turtle crossing areas.
Motorists encountering these roadside turtle signs should reduce their speed and be on the lookout for jaywalking turtles. Drivers who come across a turtle crossing the road and want to help are asked to safely pull over to the side of the road and, only if it is safe to do so, move the turtle to the side of the road in the direction it was headed.
May through July is a critical period when Maine’s female turtles undertake risky overland forays to reach nesting areas. During this time, turtles often cross roads, sometimes with fatal consequences. In response, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and The Nature Conservancy are cooperating to install new road signs warning motorists of endangered turtle road crossing locations in the towns of Wells, South Berwick and York with the goal of reducing collisions with two of the state’s rarest species.
“As rates of development and road traffic increases in southern Maine, road mortality is becoming an ever-increasing threat,” said IFW Biologist Phillip deMaynadier. “The turtle’s shell is an outstanding adaptation that has served it well for millions of years, but it is no match for the tire of a 4,000-pound car.”
If just a few rare turtles can be saved annually from a road kill fate, it is believed the road signs will have contributed to the recovery of these declining species.
Blanding’s and spotted turtles, both protected under Maine’s Endangered Species Act, have seen much of their freshwater wetland habitat destroyed or degraded.
Blanding’s and spotted turtles are extremely long-lived animals that take a minimum of seven (spotted) to 14 (Blanding’s) years to reach reproductive age. This, coupled with low hatchling success, places a premium on adult survivorship. Recent population analyses of several freshwater turtle species indicate that as little as 2 to 3 percent additive annual mortality of adults is unsustainable, leading to local population extinction. Simply put, there is probably no group of organisms in Maine for which roads represent a more serious threat to long-term population viability than turtles, and there is no place more threatening than southern York County, where road density and traffic volumes peak.
A cooperative study by the University of Maine’s Wildlife Ecology Department and MDIFW has identified high-density rare turtle areas where road-crossing hotspots are located in southern Maine. Now, with the assistance of the Maine Department of Transportation, the Mt. Agamenticus Conservation Coalition and local towns, state biologists are installing temporary yellow warning signs in strategic locations to alert motorists to the possible presence of turtles on the roadway. The signs will only be deployed seasonally, coinciding with the spring and summer period when overland turtle movements are greatest, thus helping to maximize the signs impact by reducing “sign fatigue” by local commuters.
For more information about Maine’s turtles and work by MDIFW to survey and protect them, please contact wildlife biologists Phillip deMaynadier (Bangor research office), Derek Yorks (Bangor research office), or Scott Lindsay (Gray Region A office).
Funding for this project comes primarily from the Loon Conservation License Plate and donations to the state’s Chickadee Check-off. Additional research support was provided by the Maine Department of Transportation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, The Nature Conservancy and the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund.
Contact Director of Information and Education Doug Rafferty at (207) 287-5248

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