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Our View: Be ready to offer migrating turtles a hand

From the editorial: "'The nesting season is a really tough time to be a turtle mother'."

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This time of year — late May through June and even into July — turtles in Minnesota and Wisconsin are emerging from rivers, lakes, and wetlands and migrating to nesting locations. And, to get there, many are crossing roads and highways, where car and truck dangers are aplenty and where turtles’ hide-in-their-shells self-preservation instinct is woefully ineffective.

The turtles could use our help — even when it’s not World Turtle Day, which crawled slowly past most of us and our busy lives last week on May 23.

“Turtles everywhere are fast disappearing today … (and) roadside mortality, in fact, is believed to be a major factor,” the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources advises. “Helping these typically inoffensive animals safely across roads is therefore an important and valuable contribution to (their) preservation. … Turtles injured while trying to cross the road may be taken to your nearest permitted wildlife rehabilitator .”

The Minnesota DNR offers a few solid suggestions should you come across a migrating turtle on a road or highway.

“Don't put yourself or others in danger,” the department advises first. “Simply pulling off the road and turning on your hazard lights may alert other drivers to slow down. Be aware of your surroundings and traffic.

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“Avoid excessive handling, … (which) can disrupt (a turtle’s) normal behavior. …

“When turtles can safely cross roads unaided due to a lack of oncoming traffic, allow them to do so. Observe from a distance and avoid rapid movements, as doing otherwise (can) cause turtles to change direction, stop, or seek shelter within their shells.

“Handle turtles gently. If (it’s) necessary to pick them up, all turtles except snappers and softshells (... that may bite when picked up) should be grasped gently along the shell edge near the midpoint of the body. Please be advised that many turtles empty their bladders when lifted off the ground, so be careful not to drop them if they should suddenly expel water.”

The Minnesota DNR continues at its website, “Always move turtles in the same direction they were traveling in when encountered. Turtles should always be moved across roadways in as direct a line as possible. It may seem helpful to ‘assist’ the turtle in its journey by moving them to a nearby waterbody, but it is important to remember the phrase, ‘If you care, leave it there’.”

If you encounter a turtle in Minnesota and do help it along, you can also help the DNR’s efforts to track turtle crossings and mortality areas by visiting the Minnesota Turtle Crossing Tally & Count Project online.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources also urges helping out our turtle friends this time of year. In addition to being struck and killed by vehicles during annual nesting migrations, turtle nests also are often raided in late spring and early summer by predators like raccoons, skunks, and coyotes, the department said. Additionally, some protected species of turtles are illegally taken from the wild and sold illegally as pets .

“The nesting season is a really tough time to be a turtle mother,” Wisconsin DNR Conservation Biologist Andrew Badje said in a statement last week.

To help, consider building a nest cage to protect turtle eggs and hatchlings should you find you have turtles on your property, the Wisconsin DNR suggests. It offers written instructions as well as step-by-step video instructions for building one.

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Also, drive with caution, especially near wetlands, lakes and rivers, the Wisconsin DNR advises. Report turtle sightings, including road crossings and nests, by filling out a form with the DNR’s Wisconsin Turtle Conservation Program. And report suspicious turtle-related illegal activity online or by calling or texting 1-800-847-9367.

As obvious and no-duh as it sounds, “For the safety of the turtles, if you see one while driving, please don't run it over,” as Turtle Ambassador (certified by Nature Abounds ) Rhonda Sievers of Duluth wrote in a letter to the editor in 2019.

That’s a good start, especially this time of year when the turtles most need us to be watching out for them and even giving them a hand.

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