Creston volunteers band together to create safer conditions for nesting turtles

The western painted turtle faces many barriers to a healthy population

Submitted by Wildsight

Road mortality is a major threat for turtles across B.C., including those in the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area (CVWMA).

These slow-moving creatures leave their watery homes in search of ideal egg-laying locations, like gravel roadsides with south-facing slopes and very little vegetation. For turtles in the CVWMA, that often means crossing the West Creston Road that runs through their habitat.

To help encourage turtles to stay off roads, sand and gravel nesting beds were built away from roadsides. To further deter the turtles from returning to nesting grounds along the road, approximately 1.5 kilometres of fencing was also installed a number of years ago.

“Turtle road mortality has a big impact on turtle populations, especially when females are hit” said Marc-André Beaucher, head of conservation programs for the CVWMA.

“Reducing road mortality is a way to help conserve turtle populations.”

The turtles here are part of the Intermountain-Rocky Mountain population, found in the southern interior of B.C. Turtles are “relatively common” throughout the Creston Valley bottom, Beaucher reports. As the only native freshwater turtle in B.C., the Western Painted Turtle (sometimes referred to as the Northern Painted Turtle) have a lot of barriers to a healthy population.

Threats, as listed in the Conservation Status Report, include transportation corridors, residential and commercial development, agriculture and aquaculture, biological resource use, human disturbance, and natural system modifications.

Turtles face other threats, some not as straightforward to fix. For example, the BC Conservation Data Centre notes, “There is a significant loss of wetlands due to filling and draining to increase land for cultivation and development. Death from injuries from being hooked by fishermen have also been observed. Recent expansion of the raccoon (Procyon lotor) has likely reduced nesting success and led to increased mortality of hatchlings and nesting females.”

In the Creston Valley, adds Beaucher, turtles face an additional threat from skunks, known to wipe out over 90 per cent of local turtle nests in the summer. Invasive species are also a concern.

The fencing alongside the West Creston Road reduces at least one of the threats to the local Western Painted Turtle population. However, the fence requires constant maintenance, with snow, water, and vegetation breaking down the barrier over time.

Wildsight Creston was looking to do a volunteer project and approached Beaucher for ideas. The decision to work on fencing was an easy one. It was a good fit for both organizations, as the CVWMA can always use volunteer power, and Wildsight was able to gather together a solid group of about 14 to work on the project recently.

A western painted turtle pictured at the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area. (Photo by Kelsey Yates)

A western painted turtle pictured at the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area. (Photo by Kelsey Yates)

Melissa Flint, Wildsight Creston branch manager, says it was great to gather together to work on a project that directly benefits wildlife. Jim Smith, a director with Wildsight Creston, agreed.

“Quite a few people brought their kids, so it was a family affair,” Smith said.

“Once people got started, they dove right in.”

Volunteers restored turtle fencing between the Discovery Centre parking lot and the old service road to the north, as well as cleaned up some weeds and raked the gravel at the turtle nesting area beside the parking lot.

“The work ethic was great and people worked in ad hoc groups along the fence. The two hours went by quickly, and we all felt a sense of accomplishment once the section was finished,” Smith said.

“Because it was work to keep the turtles safe from the road and provide ideal nesting, people really bought into the project.”

To learn more about the Creston Wildlife Management Area, visit crestonwildlife.ca.

Creston ValleyWildlife