Turtle project gains global traction
By Vanessa Balintec
The Haliburton Highlands Land Trust’s turtle road mortality mitigation project is receiving attention from academics around the world, the organization reported at their annual general meeting on June 1 at the Minden Hills Cultural Centre.
The three-year study, conducted from 2015 to 2017, into how to better protect turtles at roadways resulted in a barrier wall designed by Minden’s Paul Heaven, senior wildlife biologist, that allowed turtles to use a culvert or channel as an underpass.
According to the land trust, his work significantly reduced the number of turtles killed while nesting and crossing roads to each wetland.
This past April, Montana State University requested permission to use monitoring protocols based out of the study. The entire turtle project has been published in scientific journal Copeia.
According to the report, Heaven was recently contacted by an ecologist working with the U.S. Department of Interior’s International Technical Assistance Program to use the project as a case study for a closer look in fast infrastructure development that harms species and habitats occurring in countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Burma. The workshop will be in Thailand where government officials from these countries will be in attendance.
In addition, attendees at the AGM heard that the land trust’s two-year Bats at Risk Assessment Project was completed. By using community outreach programs such as radio and workshops and using social media, the land trust was able to bring further interest and awareness to the project.
According to the report, with Heaven’s support, they were able to confirm the presence of all eight Ontario bat species in Haliburton County, four of which are listed as endangered.
Although the organization has received good news regarding their projects, receiving grant money in the year to come may prove difficult.
With the significant reduction in grants at both the provincial and federal levels, the foundation said they will be “increasingly dependent” on membership and individual donations to ensure stewardship funds remain at a healthy level.
“Between 2018 and to present, we’ve probably applied for nine or 10 grants,” said chair Mary-Lou Gerstl. “Five have been denied outright. It is very, very, unusual compared to past years. We’re still waiting for word on four. We’re going to have to work hard to raise funds.”
However, the organization remains confident they will “weather the storm.” The Haliburton Highlands Land Trust’s financial auditor Tyson Shennett agreed, saying the council and their addition of treasurer David Bathe have developed effective policies over the years that help keep the organization in good standing.
Greg Wickware, vice chair, said the land trust has completed three main projects with Trent University and U-Links: surveying and monitoring tools for the organization, best management practices and guidelines for protecting wetlands, and snake species at risk and habitat management in Dahl Forest and Barnum Creek Nature Reserve.
Wickware said next steps include how to implement findings and looking into how to rehabilitate forests to maintain diversity of habitats.
Among next steps, Wickware announced a new program in collaboration with other northern and central land trusts that will enable them to work together.
“As our land states become increasingly populated as populations move north, it becomes harder and harder for organizations to acquire and work in a coordinated matter,” said Wickware. “By starting this program now and starting to meet and talk to landowners about the issues that we’re facing, we hope to be able to continue to connect with all the other land trusts around.”
A potential permanent committee made up of all the different land trusts may be established in the future to help connect other land trusts and help in conservation efforts.
Wickware said the organization was excited to announce that their partnership with Trent University and U-Links has resulted in collaboration with graduate student Robert Monico and his supervisor Dr. Tom Whillans. Monico’s thesis focuses on integrating methods of auditing and land stewardship and developing a new method for assessing the restoration potential of such properties, and will help out with habitat investigation and rehabilitation.