Slow turtle may win the race

Carroll bypass: Careful study of bog turtle habitat can show way to protect threatened species.

May 17, 2001

THE TINY, RECLUSIVE and rare bog turtle has taken a lot of abuse from mankind.

The spring-fed swamps and rivulets that are its natural home were drained for development. The palm-sized reptile was widely hunted for the pet trade, until it was declared a threatened species. That spawned a lucrative, illegal trade in the creature.

But nowhere has the turtle gained the attention that it has in Carroll County, where its unwelcome bogs lie in the path of a long-planned Route 30 bypass for the town of Hampstead.

The protected turtle has blocked the project since state money for the 6-mile diversion was revived in 1995. Extensive studies were required for further funding.

Now comes encouraging news from the State Highway Administration that construction of the road will have "negligible impact" on the bog turtle's bogs, with reasonable habitat protections. We hope that preliminary conclusion will prove valid under the scrutiny of federal wildlife agencies.

No one knows how many of these shy turtles have buried themselves in the marshy muck around Hampstead. But scientists believe that Maryland holds a third of the world's population of the bog turtle, and that the northeast Carroll wetlands are perhaps the richest habitat in the state.

The attention given Carroll's bog turtles by scientists and government protectors sends a strong message about the importance of endangered species in the web of life.

It informs the politicians and the public that there is more than commuter convenience at stake.

Carroll planners express hope this project can serve as a national prototype for protecting threatened creatures. So should we all.

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