US to protect Northeast turtles as part of bigger project
Posted 3:48 p.m. Monday
Updated 3:49 p.m. Monday
MONTPELIER, Vt. — An expanded federal program to improve wildlife habitat on private agricultural land could help preserve three species of rare turtles in New England and New York, including two types of turtles found in Vermont, officials said Monday.
Officials have not yet specified any projects to improve habitats of the wood turtle and spotted turtle in Vermont, but the federal government will work with farmers and others to restore wetlands to land that might have once been drained with ditches or other alterations to make it more suitable for agricultural use.
"That fits in perfectly with the needs of the wood turtle and the spotted turtle because they have a range of wetland and stream habitat that they need and that's the kind of areas we're looking at in these projects," said Jim Eikenberry, the wetlands specialist for the Vermont office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The Northeast Turtle Project is one of 11 new projects in 30 states from Florida to Alaska being added to the service's Working Lands for Wildlife effort. The new projects will be designed to protect habitat for several declining species, including northern bobwhites in Missouri and cutthroat trout in Colorado, all on private agricultural land.
Jason Weller, who heads the Natural Resources Conservation Service, is expected to announce formally the 11 new projects Tuesday in New Florence, Missouri, where he will tour a farm that has created young forest habitat to aid bobwhites.
The Northeast Turtle Project will work in the six New England states and New York to provide wetlands habitat for the Blandings, wood and spotted turtles. All three species of turtles are candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act.
Eikenvberry said no Blandings turtles have been found in Vermont, but they are found in some of the other northeastern states.
The projects could have the added benefit of helping reduce the amount of phosphorous that reaches Lake Champlain and work toward the broader long-term goal of cleaning up the lake, he said.
Eikenberry said the turtle program comes with no specific funding for projects.
"It's kind of getting a catalyst movement together and getting folks to say, hey, we need to focus on these species, they have these habitat needs," Eikenberry said. "It's not something to think about in the future, but to work on now and with that the funding can come along."