Dear Chairwoman and Commissioners,
As a member scientist of the Box Turtle Advisory Group (BTAG) for the Maryland State Highway Administration during the development of the ICC (Intercounty Connector), I have expert knowledge of the potential damaging effects of a highway construction project, such as the proposed Mid-county Highway Extended (M-83), on wild box turtle populations.
More than 950 box turtles were removed from the footpath of the ICC. That number not only reflects the large area covered by the project and the quality of much of the habitat, but the large number of man hours that went into looking for the turtles, the extensive use of tracking dogs, and the number of field seasons over which the searches went on. The 950 box turtles removed were a small portion of the total number which could have been rescued if more time and financial resources were allocated to the project during mitigation.
|Construction for ICC coordinated with box turtle removal|
photo taken by author
Transfer of turtles from the right-of-way prior to clearing for a roadway can be problematic. Box turtles are secretive, well camouflaged, and difficult to find. Also, adults (which are the only age group likely to be found in significant numbers without the use of trained tracking doges) rarely adjust well to new surroundings and often fail to thrive. There also is the possibility of disease transmission between relocated and resident turtles at the new site.
|Dr. Susan Hagood and her tracking dog Drew looking for|
box turtles for removal prior to ICC construction.
photo taken by author
Building M-83 would reduce and fragment box turtle habitat (which currently is plentiful) with potential major negative consequences for the remaining box turtle population:
- Turtles would be cut off from critical food and water resources, nesting sites, established overwintering sites, and potential mates.
- The creation of more forest edge would increase access to box turtles by predators (especially dogs and raccoons). Also, predators are more likely to destroy turtle nests at or near the habitat edges than in the center of the forest.
- Smaller and more slender forest patches (such as M-83 would create) would be subject to more extreme high and low temperatures as well as greater fluctuations in humidity than would larger contiguous forest.
- Box turtles prefer moderate temperature with continuous high humidity. Eggs and young juveniles are particularly vulnerable to desiccation and temperature extremes. Temperature shifts can also change the sex ratio of the developing eggs with unknown consequences to future breeding success of the population.
- More forest edge and a change in the temperature profile in the forest would encourage a negative change in the plant community with which box turtles have evolved and use for food and cover.
|Box Turtle, photo by Colin Barnett|
The Mid-Atlantic Turtle and Tortoise Society (www.matts-turtles.info) is a supporter of the TAME Coalition and opposes building Mid-County Highway Extended (M-83).
At-Large Director, Mid-Atlantic Turtle & Tortoise Society