The Hippo


Nov 21, 2019








Wood Turtles. Photos by Josh Megysey.

Protecting NH’s wood turtles
Plan aims to keep species from becoming threatened

By Ryan Lessard

 Larger than the painted turtle, smaller than the snapping turtle, New Hampshire’s wood turtle has been a protected species since 2008. Now, efforts are underway to ensure the shelled amphibian doesn’t get upgraded from “species of concern” to “threatened species.”

New Hampshire Fish and Game wildlife biologist Michael Marchand specializes in nongame and endangered species in the state. He said that while wood turtles have some healthy populations in parts of the state, their numbers have dropped significantly over the years due largely to human interference either through road and agricultural development or through poaching.
“There are old historic records of wood turtles being among the most abundant turtles in New Hampshire and New England. That’s just not the case anymore,” Marchand said.
He said the 9-inch-long wood turtles are moderately sized by New Hampshire standards with a bright orange neck and legs. 
“People consider them pretty attractive, which also gets them into trouble,” Marchand said.
Poachers have been known to collect wood turtles to sell them out of state to people who want them as pets. Owning or collecting wood turtles is illegal in New Hampshire and many other Northeast states.
They are different from most other turtle species in the area in that they prefer to live in and around rivers and streams. Other species can be less picky about which types of watersheds they take up residence in. 
Wood turtles also prefer low-level plant cover in the forests where they tend to roam during the summer months. 
“If you picture a turtle being six inches off the ground, they’re looking to be very concealed and hide,” Marchand said.
So when a river or stream is obstructed by development or shrubs are mowed to make way for farmland, their habitat shrinks.
The constraints on their habitat are half of the problem. Turtles are evolved to live long adult lives and reproduce frequently, while a small fraction of turtle babies survive into adulthood. They live long lives, to as old as 60 to 90 years, and they’re reproducing that whole time.
“The reason they’re in such trouble is they depend on extremely high survival rates for the adults,” Marchand said. “They can lay eggs up until the point they die. … So an 80-year-old female turtle can lay as many or more eggs than a 20-year-old turtle.”
So if even one adult turtle is struck by an automobile or stolen by a poacher, that can have far-reaching and long-lasting impacts on the larger turtle population.
Marchand said the habitats in the states south of New Hampshire have been greatly diminished. Some have suffered here too, but more remain.
“New Hampshire and Maine have some of the best remaining habitats in the Northeast. So we have a really high responsibility for the species at a global level,” Marchand said.
To make sure existing wood turtle populations thrive and grow, Marchand is working with counterparts in neighboring states to gather data that can be used to develop a regional conservation plan for the species due later this year. That includes studying populations — there are at least five thriving populations identified with about 30 individual turtles each in the state — and analyzing the genetic profile of each population. 
The latter will help them understand the relative uniqueness and diversity of populations, which will be critical in determining whether to relocate any turtles and, if so, to what destinations.
Officials will also likely work with landowners to make sure habitats are safe by adding buffers along rivers and perhaps creating new conservation land.

®2019 Hippo Press. site by wedu