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Roadside fences and signs help reduce mortality rate of turtles

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Every year from May to early July, turtles make their way out of swamp areas and up near roadways to lay their eggs, but unfortunately, many of them are killed by cars and mowers.

Thomas A. Langen, associate professor of biology at Clarkson University, Potsdam, has been working to lower the roadside mortality rate of turtles in St. Lawrence County since 2001. He said this year he and some of his students are working to repair some of the fences put up in the county to keep turtles out of the road.

“I usually have about two or three students working during the summer to conduct surveys on the amount of roadkill in areas with fences and areas without,” he said. “We’ve had to do some repairs, but the fences do seem to be effective.”

Some of those repairs include installing longer wings at the ends of the fences along Route 68 in Canton to guide the turtles away from the road. Mr. Langen said turtles were getting around the fences with shorter wings, allowing them to wander into the roads.

He said turtles gravitate to the roadside because they prefer the warmer soil and open ground for breeding.

Mr. Langen and his students also worked on creating nesting areas for turtles away from the road, but it is too soon to know if they are effective.

Carol A. Simpson, a board member for Ontario Bays Initiative Inc., has been working on a turtle protection initiative for a few years and has spent much of her time in Cape Vincent spreading awareness about turtles and their springtime migration. She said many turtles stay in wetlands for most of the year until May, when they begin their journey to find a nesting area.

She said many turtles can be found in Wilson’s Bay Marsh, including some endangered species such as the Blanding’s turtle.

This year she noticed fewer turtles being killed on the roads. “I think the signs are very helpful,” she said. “The thing that’s most helpful, I think, is that we got the town of Cape Vincent to agree to not mow the roadsides where the turtles are abundantly crossing.”

Unfortunately for the turtles, some turtle crossing signs have been stolen, Ms. Simpson said.

“We started out with about 10 turtle signs and I think we’re down to five because people steal them,” she said. “I don’t know if they’re teenagers and they think it’s funny or if people take them and put them in their own yard.” Ms. Simpson said that to prevent more signs from disappearing, some of the signs in Cape Vincent were taken down in early July after the turtles returned to their wetlands.

Mr. Langen said most of St. Lawrence County doesn’t use the turtle crossing signs, partly because people steal them and partly because it’s not clear they’re effective. “Even if people slow down, they don’t slow down much,” he said.

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