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Turtles cross roads for nesting season, high numbers hit by cars

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.

It’s turtle nesting season around Wisconsin, and that means female turtles climb out of rivers and lakes to cross roads and lay their eggs in upland habitat.

One rehabilitation center says it’s been a particularly deadly season for the turtles, however, as high numbers have been brought into their center after being hit by passing cars.

Every year in late May and June, Wisconsin’s 11 species of turtles crawl out of the lakes, rivers, creeks, and ponds they’ve been submerged in all winter.

It’s their nesting season, and female turtles want to find a nice, safe spot to lay their eggs in upland habitat.

To find those areas, they risk life and limb crossing roads and yards.

The Wisconsin DNR and specialists at rehabilitation centers both want the public to be extra aware of crossing turtles this time of year.

Andrew Badje, a conservation biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, says the goal is to keep our common species common.

“As turtles, adult females especially are being hit on roadways and stuff like that, and in addition, the fact that there's a lack of baby turtles coming back into these wetland and aquatic habitats, and those areas, those populations are suffering a lot more than than some of the areas where our habitats are more complete and safe from from some of these added pressures,” he said.

Northwoods Wildlife Center, a wildlife rescue service in Minocqua, has seen over 25 injured turtles.

Amanda Schirmer is their Director of Wildlife Rehabilitation.

“Unfortunately, I'll be honest, it's not been a good year for them. We've had a lot of cases where we were not able to save them, unfortunately. So those ones have been humanely euthanized,” said Schirmer.

“Unfortunately, I've heard it far too often lately that there's a game out there that the turtle count game that they people will play a game of how many turtles they can hit in a season. Please don't play that game. It's not humane. Unfortunately, growing up in Wisconsin, I knew of it. And I periodically hear it even now as an adult,” she said.

If you see a turtle on the roadside and it’s safe to move it, Schirmer encourages people to do so because the next person driving past may not see the animal and might accidentally hit it.

If you do hit a turtle, she encourages you to bring it into a rehabilitation center.

Sometimes drivers will try to straddle a turtle on the road to avoid hitting it, but Schirmer says that unfortunately, many species will actually lift their bodies and heads up as a defense mechanism against the oncoming car, putting them exactly in harm’s way.

“I've had some people get very creative, some people carry a snow shovel in their car and just scoop them up. I always say if you can get them onto a sheet, towel or a coat and then you can drag the coat from there,” said Schirmer.

If possible, she recommends stopping and moving the turtle. However, she acknowledges that that’s not always possible and human safety needs to be a priority.

“I'd say I can fix more than people think I can. We have pain medications, we have antibiotics and things like that we can also use because that shell being fractured is treated like an open fracture, because that is a bone. So it will treat it as such,” she explained.

Schirmer said that turtles can live for some time with ultimately deadly, painful injuries after a collision with a car, and she wanted people to know that the center offers humane euthanasia for those scenarios.

She doesn’t recommend dragging a turtle across the road because that rough surface can cause injury.

If you do move a turtle, move it in the direction it was heading.

Report turtles crossing roadways to the DNR using this link: https://wiatri.net/inventory/witurtles/

Hannah Davis-Reid is a WXPR Reporter.
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