Long Point’s work to pre­vent tur­tle, snake road deaths lauded

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - MICHELLE MCQUIGGE

LONG POINT — A ru­ral On­tario com­mu­nity’s work to pre­vent en­dan­gered rep­tiles from be­ing killed on a 3.6-kilo­me­tre stretch of road — once con­sid­ered among the world’s dead­li­est for tur­tles — is be­ing held up as a suc­cess­ful ex­am­ple of how to pro­tect vul­ner­a­ble wildlife.

A new re­search pa­per, pub­lished Fri­day in the Wildlife So­ci­ety Bul­letin, de­tails Long Point’s con­struc­tion of road­way fenc­ing and cul­verts — tun­nels used for an­i­mal travel — to de­crease the num­bers of tur­tles and snakes dy­ing on the Long Point Cause­way in a south­west­ern part of the prov­ince.

The road con­nect­ing the Long Point Penin­sula on Lake Erie and main­land On­tario was ranked as the world’s fourth dead­li­est site for tur­tle road mor­tal­ity in 2003. Re­searchers also es­ti­mated that since 1979, as many as 10,000 an­i­mals per year were killed by traf­fic on the two-lane stretch.

The study found, how­ever, that the com­mu­nity’s work to pro­tect the rep­tiles liv­ing in wet­lands sur­round­ing the cause­way has re­duced the num­ber of tur­tles ven­tur­ing onto the road by 89 per cent over 10 years, while the num­ber of snakes go­ing onto the road dropped by 28 per cent.

Re­searchers say the ef­forts around Long Point could be a use­ful model for other com­mu­ni­ties lo­cated near frag­ile ecosys­tems around the world.

Study lead re­searcher Chantel Markle of McMaster Univer­sity said it’s im­por­tant to tackle the is­sue of road mor­tal­ity head-on, es­pe­cially for tur­tles that are par­tic­u­larly sus­cep­ti­ble to the is­sue.

“Tur­tles have de­layed sex­ual ma­tu­rity, so some species can’t re­pro­duce un­til up to 20 years old,” Markle said. “This makes the adult tur­tles re­ally im­por­tant to the pop­u­la­tion … When you have road mor­tal­ity, even a few adults killed ev­ery year can have ma­jor neg­a­tive im­pact on the pop­u­la­tion.”

The ef­fort to pro­tect the rep­tiles of Long Point — dubbed the Long Point Cause­way Im­prove­ment Project — be­gan in 2006 when com­mu­nity mem­bers gath­ered to dis­cuss the is­sue.

Rick Le­vick, project man­ager and a cot­tager in the area, said peo­ple felt it was im­por­tant to con­serve the species that live in the Big Creek Na­tional Wildlife Area, a UNESCO-des­ig­nated bio­sphere re­serve that bor­ders the cause­way.

Some of those species, in­clud­ing the Bland­ing’s, spot­ted and snap­ping va­ri­eties of tur­tle, are ei­ther con­sid­ered at sig­nif­i­cant risk or listed as en­dan­gered species.

Le­vick said com­mu­nity mem­bers be­gan rais­ing funds to put in the in­fra­struc­ture nec­es­sary to keep an­i­mals off the roads.

TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO

A snap­ping tur­tle con­sid­ers its op­tions af­ter lay­ing her eggs on a mound of sand placed near the Long Point Cause­way.

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