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Keep an Eye Out for Turtles on the Road as Nesting Season Starts

Wisconsin DNR

Every year as the temperature start to heat up, female turtles start moving.

They make their way from rivers and wetlands up to higher, drier ground to lay eggs.

The turtles are usually crossing roads to get there. The DNR is asking drivers to be on the look out for turtles on the roads alongside water bodies.

DNR Natural Heritage Conservation Biologist Andrew Badje says to slow down and be alert.

The DNR and Department of Transportation does not recommend drivers get out to help turtles across, but Badje asks that if you do be safe and smart about it.

“Once you do end up finding a good safe spot to pull over just make sure that you’re helping the turtle cross the road in the direction it was going or the direction you believe it was headed towards,” said Badje. “Historically, people would always think that turtles should be in wetlands or in rivers so they’d always just move it back to the wetlands or the river in fact when the turtle might actually be heading the uplands and that.”

If you’re going to touch the turtle to help it along, don’t grab the tail, you could cause a spinal injury.

Badje says the best place to hold on is just above the back legs. You don’t want to grab too far forward because their mouths have a far reach and their bites can do a lot of damage.

Credit Wisconsin DNR

Whether you help one cross, just see one crossing, or see a dead turtle on the road, the DNR is asking you to report to the DNR’s Wisconsin Turtle Conservation Program.

Badje said the DNR can use data from the reports to help prevent future deaths.

“We can recommend and work with road agencies to try and help make some of these turtle crossing areas, especially the larger crossing sites where there’s more mortalities, try and fix them to try and get the turtles off the roads and going under them so they’re not getting hit as much,” said Badje.

The number of turtle crossing reports was about half of what it usually was last year. Badje said it’s hard to know if that was just a dip in people reporting or less turtle deaths because of lack of cars on the road during the pandemic.

Badje said worldwide turtle populations have been reported to be in decline, but it’s hard to know exactly the impact on populations in the Northwoods.

Things like road crossing killings, nest predators, and poachers can all take a toll on the population.

“It’s difficult to answer that question is kind of the moral of the story. It’s happening in certain areas, might be happening everywhere, but it’s kind of hard to tell at this point in time just due to the information that we have.”

In addition to watching the roads, Badje said protecting the nest if it’s on your property is a good way to help the animals.

“That kind of offsets to some level the mortality that’s happening on the roads and it’s kind of preventing higher rates nest predation by racoons and skunks and other animals too,” said Badje.

If you see a turtle burying eggs on your property, you can build a cage over the nest.

You can watch the video below or find step-by-step directions on the DNR’s website.

Turtles will usually be laying their eggs now through the end of the month.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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