Ontario community works to save reptiles on roads

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 the community of 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 on to 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 in an interview. “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.

The community began putting up fences in 2008, and two years later Levick said the number of turtles dying on the roadway had already been cut in half. The reduction in snake deaths, while noticeable, was less pronounced because of their greater flexibility, he said.

Researchers attribute some of the project’s success to the fact that three different types of fencing materials were used depending on the type of roadway terrain, adding that communities wishing to emulate the results must be flexible in their approach.

The next phase of the project involved building culverts through which animals could travel between their wildlife area and Long Point Bay. Researchers said many species need to be able to migrate safely between the two areas in order to thrive and had been using the road to do so in the past.

The study on the community’s efforts tracked road mortality rates for five years both before and after fencing and culverts were installed and documented the sharp declines in the number of road deaths among the area’s reptiles.

Levick said the findings suggests the importance of a two-pronged strategy for protecting wildlife.

“You’ve got to think about culverts and fencing as a single system,” he said. “It’s not one thing or the other, you’ve got to do both.”

Public outreach also became part of the strategy, Levick said, adding it was important to educate the public on the risks they posed to threatened species as well as on ways to help.

One of the simplest but most effective strategies, he said, was simply to change the turtle crossing signs in the area.

Rather than leaving a small, unobtrusive placard up year-round and desensitizing the drivers to its presence, Levick said the community purchased bolder signs that only go up during the spring and summer months.

Both Levick and Markle agree that enlisting community support and participation is a critical piece in a successful animal protection strategy.

Just Posted

Influenza claims two more in Central Alberta

Since flu season began four months ago 16 have died in Central Alberta

Relatives of murdered family critical of killers’ sentences

Open letter to sentencing judge criticizes ruling allowing killers to apply for parole in 25 years

City rolling out Green Carts

Green Carts used for organics, such as yard waste, food scraps and pet waste

Updated: Red Deer gets WHL Bantam Draft and Awards Banquet

WHL will holds its draft and awards ceremony in Red Deer for next three years

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

Supporters of Tina Fontaine’s family march in Winnipeg to support her family

WINNIPEG — Hundreds marched through the streets of Winnipeg on Friday in… Continue reading

Alberta judge cleared in case where sex assault victim was shackled and jailed

EDMONTON — An Alberta judge has been cleared of misconduct in the… Continue reading

Ottawa vows legislation allowing firms to settle corporate corruption

OTTAWA — The Canadian government is vowing to introduce legislation for corporate… Continue reading

‘Lost Tapes’ series examines Malcolm X through rare footage

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Malcolm X was reviled and adored during his lifetime… Continue reading

Woe, Canada: Germany ousts Canada 4-3

GANGNEUNG, Korea, Republic Of — Germany has knocked Canada out of the… Continue reading

Twenty years later, figure skating’s most famous backflip remains amazing (and illegal)

Figure skating involves spins, jumps, twizzles and a whole host of other… Continue reading

You don’t need to chop like a TV chef to get the job done

Standing in line at the emergency room, makeshift bandage around my finger,… Continue reading

Most Read

Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month