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True impact of turtle crisis unknown in county

By Mark Arike,
The Highlander,
July 13 2017

A turtle crisis was recently announced by The Land Between and the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre for an area stretching from Parry Sound to Frontenac and Lanark.

A total of 538 of the 584 turtles taken to the centre in the last six months were struck by cars, according to Donnell Gasbarrini, turtle programs manager. This far exceeds last year, when 370 turtles were received.

Formerly known as the Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre, the centre is located in Peterborough but accepts turtles from across the province.

But at this time, it’s unclear how many of those injured turtles were struck by cars on Haliburton County roads.

“We don’t know how many came from Haliburton, but the majority come from the region/The Land Between where the majority of turtles are found in Ontario,” said Leora Berman of The Land Between in an interview.

The centre’s staff and volunteers will quantify the numbers and locations at the end of the year.

“This data right now is in paper form and we will be creating a digital map later this fall,” she said.

This year, Berman delivered two turtles to the centre. She also counted more than 70 dead turtles along a 100-kilometre stretch.

“The cottage traffic roads are the worst,” she said, listing highways 11, 69, 118 and the major county roads.

For more than 10 years, Berman’s organization, The Land Between, has been working with the centre, Ontario Nature, Toronto Zoo and local groups to “assess threats to turtles, mark crossing areas with signs and support the testing of new models of underpasses.”

“Similar models that we used here have been tested and used in Algonquin Park, Arrowhead Park, and parts of southern Ontario,” she said. “We were most curious to test the concave fence here.”

Old culverts from roads yards will be cut in half and used, which Berman described as “fast, effective, affordable and recycled.” These will direct turtles away from crossing the road and instead go underneath it.

They have plans to install about 50 of the 500 underpasses in Haliburton. Biologists and experts will need to oversee the installations, states a press release.

A campaign is underway to raise $3 million-$1 million for the underpasses, $1 million to expand the centre and $1 million for treatment and overhead costs.

“We will be providing a breakdown of where that money needs to go to save these beautiful relatives of ours,” said Berman.

Grant applications will be submitted to private foundations and all monies raised will be matched. She also hopes to get sponsors for underpasses.

The Haliburton Highlands Land Trust (HHLT) isn’t part of this initiative, but it did lead a three-year turtle mortality mitigation project that was funded by the province. As part of that, a barrier wall and underpass were installed on Gelert Road.

“It’s a crisis-there’s no question,” said Mary-Lou Gerstl, HHLT board chair. “We’re supportive of anything any group can do to further the existence and help the turtles.”

Seven of eight turtle species in the province are at risk, according to the centre.

To donate to the campaign or learn more, visit turtleguardians.com.