The education program also could be used to get people to volunteer for habitat restoration workdays that will help the turtles.
“Everyone has different ways they can contribute,” Gutmann said.
Recovery effort shows progress
While the viability of Blanding’s turtles remains precarious, the recovery program does seem to be working, Thompson said. A turtle survey that used 111 traps in 2012 counted 35 Blanding’s turtles. By last year, fewer traps that were placed in preserves for fewer days netted 80 turtles, Thompson reported. And while this year’s report isn’t finalized, Thompson said preliminary survey results show more than 100 turtles were counted.
“Those are positive signs,” Thompson said.
Other turtle species seem to be holding their own, but Blanding’s turtles are in trouble because they need a larger habitat to survive, Thompson explained. Also, they don’t lay eggs as often as painted turtles, and they lay fewer eggs than snapping turtles, which may be why those turtle species are still relatively abundant.
While the recovery program is a positive step, the situation is still challenging, Thompson added. Habitat continues to decline due to development in northern Illinois, poachers are still illegally trapping the species to supply Asian markets or for use as pets, cars hit turtles that are crossing roads, and predators will continue to feast on eggs and newborn turtles that aren’t protected by the program.
Thompson said he welcomes the Forest Preserve District of Will County into the program because having more agencies involved in hatchling protection will increase the species’ numbers and create better genetic diversity. Helping Blanding’s turtles survive is a way to help the environment as a whole, he added.
“What we’re doing is holding things together for the future for a lot of other species,” he said. “We’re all in this together.”