Iowa DNR uses $10,000 to help protect threatened Blanding’s turtles

(The Center Square) – Iowa is using about $10,000 to help Blanding’s turtles, which are a threatened species in The Hawkeye State.

The species is a candidate for a federal list of threatened species, according to an article in an Iowa Department of Natural Resources e-newsletter The Center Square received Tuesday.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources Communications, Outreach and Marketing Bureau Information Specialist Mick Klemesrud told The Center Square via email Tuesday that the department is spending about $10,000 for equipment and staff time. The department hired a seasonal staff member and allocated about 75% of her time to monitor the turtles, he said. That staff member is being paid $14.25 per hour, he said. Equipment includes transmitters, equipment to detect the transmitters, soil temperature gauge, camera and gas.

The department is drawing from the Fish and Wildlife Trust Fund, which the Iowa DNR manages. The department’s website said the fund is constitutionally protected and exclusively supports fish and wildlife-related research, management and education activities. All fishing, hunting and trapping license fees go directly to the fund. Iowans can also donate to the fund.

Loss of critical habitat and low nest success is prompting Blanding’s turtles to nest close together, which makes them more vulnerable to predators. They’re also nesting on road shoulders, where vehicles might hit them. Increasing preferred habitat, wetlands, would allow turtles to spread out and avoid roads, increasing the likelihood nests could be successful. These turtles, which are the only ones in Iowa to have a bright yellow chin and underside of their neck, use several different wetlands each year for hibernating, feeding and mating.

The turtles can live about 75 years, and females lay eggs throughout their lives, The Gazette reported.

Iowa DNR seasonal employee Emily Asche is tracking adults and hatchlings with devices that last eight to nine years on adults and for a few months on hatchlings. The ones on hatchlings are no more than 3% of the turtle’s body weight.

“We outfitted the adult female and two hatchlings with tracking devices to follow their movement and learn more about their range and the habitats they use at different times of the year, in the hopes of recreating more of their preferred habitat,” Iowa DNR Wildlife Biologist TJ Herrick said in the article.

Herrick said his team found another female that was carrying 17 eggs in June and tracked her until her movements indicated she was nesting. These turtles dig a hole in the dirt and lay the eggs before returning to the wetlands and leave the eggs to develop alone. Herrick’s team covered the nest with wire fencing and placed a camera to watch for the young to emerge. Soil temperature suggests when eggs will hatch and the likely female to male ratio.

The department is also partnering with other organizations, like Blank Park Zoo and Iowa State University, to collect data on Blanding’s turtles at different locations to better understand habitat needs to improve management practices.

The University of Northern Iowa is protecting and raising surviving hatchlings before releasing them into the wild.

Iowans who find Blanding’s turtles on the road are asked to leave them alone, though it’s fine to help them cross the road safely. It’s illegal to collect one as a pet or to kill it, the article said.

“Yes, we partnered with UNI on previous and current turtle studies – not related to the Blanding’s project,” Klemesrud said. “They agreed to incubate these turtle eggs and raised the two hatchlings over winter to grow larger in an attempt to avoid getting eaten.”

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