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Wisconsin DNR urges action to help protect turtles in the state

Ornate box turtles are often found in the pet trade, however, they are endangered in Wisconsin and are illegal to take from the wild and own as pets.
Wisconsin DNR
Ornate box turtles are often found in the pet trade, however, they are endangered in Wisconsin and are illegal to take from the wild and own as pets.

Wisconsin is home to 11 species of turtles and not all of them are doing great.

The ornate box turtle found in southern Wisconsin is on Wisconsin’s endangered species list.

The Wood Turtle, found in the Northwoods, is listed as threatened.

“Turtles are kind of facing problems in Wisconsin and globally. I don’t want to say everything is super rosy,” said Andrew Badje. He’s a conservation biologist with DNR’s Natural Heritage Conservation Bureau. “In Wisconsin really the problem areas are predominantly in areas that are adjacent to our roadways where a lot of the females are getting hit in the roads each year while their trying to find nests and dig nests.”

There are things people can do to help.

If you find a turtle nest on your property, you can build a nest cage around it to help protect it from predators.

You can find instructions on how to build one on the DNR’s website.

The DNR recommends driving with caution on roads near wetlands, lakes, and rivers.

For your safety, you should be cautious about getting out of the car to help a turtle cross the road, but Badje knows there are people that are determined to do it.

“We just want to make the roadway safe for both turtles, humans, and people driving by too. So just thinking about if you’re going to pull over, make sure you’re not doing it abruptly if someone’s driving behind you, keep your hazard lights on, and only go out into the roadway if there’s not any oncoming traffic,” said Badje.

If you see turtles on the roads, dead or alive, the DNR is asking you to report them.

The DNR can use that information to determine turtle crossing areas and potentially make changes to help protect that area.

“If we don’t get people to start thinking about protecting the females then we’re going to start having some serious problems with our populations long-term. Cause obviously, the majority of the females are getting hit, then you’re just having populations with predominately males. That’s not really going to be helping keeping the population going,” said Badje.

In the Northern Wisconsin area, turtles are expected to start laying nests during the first two weeks of June.

The illegal turtle trade is another threat to populations.

Badje says if it’s not a problem currently in Wisconsin it soon will be.

One problem is that wild turtles are being taken illegally and over-harvested.

“Sometimes they’re going basically for the pet industry other times they’re being shipped overseas, predominately to southeast Asia for both food and medicinal purposes,” he said.

People can help by making sure wild turtles stay wild.

If you do want a turtle as a pet, Badje urges people to do their research.

Turtles can live 100 or more years.

“On top of that too, there are a lot of people that poach turtles for the pet trade. We want people to start thinking, were they legally acquired? Were they legally bred? If people can’t really prove that through paperwork there’s a good chance it was taken from the wild,” said Badje.

Combating the illegal turtle trade is part of a national effort to protect turtles.

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