Scientist calls for residents to protect bog turtles

NEIGHBORS

October 27, 1999|By Pat Brodowski | Pat Brodowski,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

THE EPICENTER OF THE world's population of bog turtles is in northeastern Carroll County, according to Scott Smith, a regional heritage ecologist with the state Department of Natural Resources, and an expert on the species.

Smith spoke to a gathering of about 20 landowners and turtle enthusiasts Thursday evening at Bear Branch Nature Center.

Our area has the knee-deep, spring-fed wetlands riddled with grassy tussocks preferred by the palm-sized, black-shelled turtle with the fancy orange neckband. These wetlands are connected by slivers of streams that are highways for the turtle and its semiaquatic neighbors.

Researchers discovered this by attaching radio transmitters to the turtle's shell and following turtles traveling from one wetland to another.

The turtle is an indicator of good water quality, but they're fairly difficult to find. Bog turtles live about 30 years, yet never become larger than a hamburger roll. They're secretive, and dive into mud when disturbed.

"Protecting the turtle sites and taking care of water quality issues will help the Chesapeake Bay immeasurably," Smith said, because the turtle's favored wetlands are where the waters of the bay begin to flow.

"This is a resource issue right here. It's not the rain forest, but our diverse state of Maryland, and we have the moral responsibility to ensure the health of our streams and our land," he said.

Cryogenic researchers are intrigued by the bog turtle, according to Smith. Unhatched eggs, nestled atop grass tussocks, have the remarkable ability to survive, totally exposed, all winter.

The eggs hatch in the spring, kept warm by an instinctive conversion of glucose into a sort of antifreeze within the egg. Understanding this natural ability might enhance our exploration in freezing climates.

Several factors have led to the tiny turtle being placed on the state and national lists of threatened species. Discovered in Lancaster, Pa., during the American Revolution, the turtle gained little notice until it was almost exhaustively captured for the worldwide pet trade.

Residential and business development is eliminating wetlands and confining the turtle and its predators in smaller areas. Wetland habitat has been declining for the past 90 years.

To make matters worse, the invasive exotic multiflora rose sucks up such great quantities of water that it dries out wetlands, Smith said.

The future of the bog turtle depends upon private landowners, Smith said, adding that "all sorts of programs [are] out there, and in many cases wouldn't cost the landowner a cent" to save wetlands for the species.

Since isolated populations of turtles are more likely to become extinct, usually provisions must be made to permit two or more populations to be linked by water.

"The bog turtle is a poster child for conservation of headwaters and water quality of the Chesapeake Bay," he said. "We want to work hand in hand with private landowners to help understand the issues and be good stewards of these resources."

For landowners who want to help the bog turtle, call Smith at 410-827-8162, or write him at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Division, Wye Mills 21679.

Homecoming parade

Join the spirit of North Carroll High School football at 5: 30 p.m. Nov. 5 when the high school homecoming parade steps off at Hampstead Elementary School on Shiloh Road. The parade will proceed up Panther Drive and finish at the school's football field.

The football game starts at 7: 30 p.m. The parade is free. Tickets to the game are $2 for students and $4 for adults.

Church fund-raiser

Millers United Methodist Women have planned an afternoon of fellowship Sunday. From 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., the club will meet at Millers Picnic Woods on Millers Station Road. Members will hold a fund-raising activity centered on Princess House products.

Door prizes, a raffle and refreshments are part of the afternoon.

Information: Donna Wright, 410-374-9277, or Barb Stanton, 410-751-7680.

Pat Brodowski's North neighborhood column appears each Wednesday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.

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